McCollum calls press conference to clear up misconceptions in Pagan prisoner rights case. Alleges state admitted to perjury, destroyed key documents. Systemic discrimination. Says states are moving to end chaplain programs and replace with privately funded Evangelical chaplains. McCollum must decide next step in legal battle withing the day, asks community for input.
Monday night, Pagan minister and civil rights activist Patrick McCollum called a press conference at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering. McCollum discussed the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. case. McCollum called the presser to clear up what he saw as misunderstandings and misrepresentations of the case in the mainstream media and in the Pagan community. He also said that the Pagan community needs to know how this case affects Pagans across the country, both inside and outside the prison system.
McCollum stated since this is a federal case, it affects how the government interacts with minority faiths far beyond the borders of California. Likewise, the nature of the case doesn’t limit it to only the prison system. It is applicable to all federal agencies. McCollum said if the Pagan community understood how the ruling could be applied and that it does affect them, they would mobilize similar to the VA Pentacle Quest.
McCollum said this action by the correctional department was part of a larger movement by fundamentalist Christians to use governmental institutions to pressure persons to convert to aggressively proselytize, such as was seen in the Air Force Academy in the USA. Aggressive, and sometimes violent, proselytizing is also being carried on by some Evangelical groups in places like Haiti, India, and in Africa. He outlined how the California correctional system officials heavily discriminated against McCollum and Pagan inmates over a period of years while pressing him to file a lawsuit. Prison systems in three other states have since cited court costs associated with minority religion discrimination cases, such as the one McCollum filed, as a reason to end the state run chaplain program. The prison systems then allow private religious 501c3s to bid on administering a private chaplain program and the groups selected pay all costs. McCollum says that Pagans shouldn’t be surprised that the winners of these bids are mainly Evangelical Christian groups.
McCollum listed how prison officials had admitted to perjury, shredded thousands of inmate grievance filings, and how the court had continued to use the perjured testimony as a basis for its ruling. He also noted that the headlines stating he lost a ruling based on standing is incorrect. The case was started as a class action lawsuit involving prison inmates, but that portion of the case was thrown out.
Towards the end of the press conference McCollum said that he had a decision to make regarding the case. If McCollum decided to continue fighting this in court, it could be 8 or more years before there is a final resolution. He has already been involved in this case for over seven years. He said it is very emotionally and financially draining to fight a legal battle of this magnitude, but he has done so because it’s the right thing to do. He laid out his options as he sees them. He could push this fight through and seek to eventually end up in the Supreme Court. He noted that SCOTUS hears very few cases each year and the likelihood of the court taking this case is small. He could seek a settlement with the state of California. Or he could drop the case and fight it in the public arena similar to the pentacle Quest. For any of these options he would need the support of the entire Pagan community. It is for this reason that McCollum is seeking to hear from the community on what they feel he should do – continue in the courts or drop the case and use social pressure to affect change. He asks that Pagans comment quickly as he was given a shortened time frame to decide. He has less than 24 hours from the time of this publication.
A longer report of the presser is to follow along with links to the audio of the full press conference.