A federal appeals court revived a lawsuit Tuesday by female prisoners who contend that the California prison system is violating their rights by refusing to hire a full-time Wiccan chaplain.
A district court rejected the inmates' suit, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the inmates may have a valid claim.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation hires chaplains for five faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Native American. Inmates of other religions are permitted to worship with those chaplains or with volunteer chaplains.
In their lawsuits, inmates at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla contend that the prison policy favors mainstream religions in violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. The inmates said there were more Wiccans at the women's prison than there were Jewish, Muslim or Catholic prisoners.