Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chaplain Objects To Policy Allowing Prisoner to Choose Multiple Faiths

The Tacoma, Washington News Tribune today carries an interesting article about a 63-year old Catholic prison chaplain who is distressed over the Washington Department of Corrections new policy that allows prisoners to practice dual faiths. The policy change came in the settlement of a RLUIPA lawsuit brought by a prisoner who insisted that he be permitted to worship as both a Native American practitioner and as a Seventh-Day Adventist. The prison chaplain, Tom Suss, who is also a Catholic priest, has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his job after an inmate, under the new policy, requested to be classified as both Catholic, and as a member of the pagan Asatru movement. Suss says he cannot, as the new state policy requires, endorse a person being a Catholic and a pagan at the same time.

State Senator Mike Carrell is introducing an amendment to an existing prison bill to protect the jobs of prison chaplains whose duties conflict with their religious beliefs. Carrell argues that inmates will chose multiple religions in order to exploit the system and get various advantages. Department of Corrections policy already excuses chaplains from performing ecclesiastical duties that conflict with their religious tenets. Suss' problem however is with chaplains' nonreligious duties, such as giving prisoners access to religious items.