Friday, February 22, 2013

9th Circuit: Inmates State Plausible Establishment Clause Objection To Refusal To Hire Wiccan Chaplain

In Hartmann v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, (9th Cir.,  Feb. 19, 2013), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that Wiccan inmates had plead sufficient facts to move forward with plausible state and federal Establishment Clause objections to the California prison system's refusal to hire a Wiccan chaplain. California prisons employ Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and Protestant chaplains. Prisoners of other faiths must rely on these chaplains, or on volunteer chaplains. Plaintiffs claim that the state does not apply "neutral, equitable, and unbiased criteria" to determine chaplain hiring needs or other religious accommodations, and assert that the state's chaplain-hiring policy "constitutes an unconstitutional endorsement of one religion over another." The court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' free exercise, RLUIPA and equal protection claims. AP reports on the decision.