Let Wiccan Challenge Chaplaincy Rules, Says AU

Americans United has urged a federal appeals court to allow a Wiccan clergyman to challenge discriminatory hiring practices imposed by the government.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Nov. 30, AU argued that Patrick McCollum should be permitted to challenge a state prison policy that limits paid chaplaincy positions to persons who are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim or Native American.

McCollum, a qualified candidate for a chaplain position at the California Department of Corrections, cannot be considered for the job because of his religious beliefs. He brought a lawsuit challenging the prison’s “five faiths” policy, but a federal district court ruled that he lacked “standing” – or the right to sue.

The federal district court in McCollum v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said a legal challenge to the prison’s chaplain policy can only be brought by an inmate, not someone seeking to be hired. In addition, the court denied McCollum’s claim because he could not prove he would be hired even if the state policy was changed. The court also denied McCollum’s standing as a taxpayer.

AU’s brief, joined by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, The Interfaith Alliance and the Hindu American Foundation, disputes these arguments and asserts that McCollum should receive his day in court.

“More than simply being legally erroneous,” the brief asserts, “the [lower] court’s reasoning would inflict serious damage on the viability of all employment–discrimination claims.”