This begins a series about Pagans in Prison, and those who ‘minister’ to them. Religious volunteers report most Pagan prisoners find their Pagan path once they are incarcerated. The loss of freedom that prison represents is a strong motivator to find some meaning in life, and Pagan spirituality often offers the most relevant choice. Prisoners are invisible to us, unless they get publicity. I hope this series increases our awareness of this part of our community for, sooner or later, many will return to our general society, and look for spiritual support.
What is critical to understand within this topic, is the difference between loss of freedom, and loss of civil rights. Prisoners retain some civil rights even while in prison. Our Constitution’s First Amendment is about religious freedom, and within bounds, remains in force for those incarcerated. I had the opportunity to interview one of the foremost authorities regarding religious civil rights and prison, and Patrick McCollum also happens to be a Pagan. Read his qualifications at the end of this interview!
There are prisoners convicted of state and federal crimes, often mixed together in state institutions, does it matter?
The principles are exactly the same in the law. In federal prisons there are some additional provisions that grant additional rights, more than state prison systems, but what I’ll talk about is applicable to both systems.
What are a prisoners civil rights regarding religion in prison?
There was a law upheld by the Supreme Court (unanimous) in 2005, called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, (RLUIPA) which laid out the basics of what religious accommodation prisoner of all faiths have right to. What the act says is that the state is required to accommodate each and every inmates religious need.