The Eighth Circuit has ruled that Wiccans need only three hours to celebrate their faith. Wiccans Lawrence T. Gladson, Darrell Smith, and Scott Everett Howrey at the Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) in Fort Madison, Iowa brought the challenge and particularly challenged the denial of a full eight hours to celebrate Samhain—the most important of the eight Wiccan holidays. The court found that you can celebrate Samhain in three hours without being viewed a bad Wiccan. Among other things, the inmates alleged that the time limitation forced them to rush the Dumb Supper, which is supposed to be a “lusty and wholehearted feast.”
The inmates brought the action under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et seq. Previously, Wiccans had to fight to get their religion recognized and reached a settlement with the IDOC.
IDOC’s religious coordinator, Chaplain Kay Kopatich took personal steps to investigate the necessities of Wiccan observances:
In 2003, Chaplain Kopatich consulted with two Wiccan priestesses, one
located in California and the other located in Des Moines, and inquired about the
practice at other IDOC institutions. She testified that she attended a Samhain
celebration at a community center in Des Moines and witnessed the entire event
around October 2004. According to Chaplain Kopatich, the celebration lasted about
three hours, perhaps a little longer. At the celebration, a priestess cleansed the area,
cast a circle, and performed a ritual to honor ancestors. The participants danced,
drummed, sang, and referenced the four directions. The ritual lasted just under two
hours and refreshments were served afterwards.
The court described the prison observance:
The Samhain celebration at the ISP contains four parts: set-up, ritual, feast, and
clean-up. The set-up involves laying out a circle and constructing an altar. Among the
Wiccan “communal items” that the Hood settlement agreement specifies to be kept in
the prison chapel are a 30-inch diameter oak altar in three pieces, an altar paten (a
wood pentagram), a serving plate, and an altar cloth. Taking the testimony of Hood
and Gladson together, the magistrate judge concluded that the ritual consists of
cleansing the area of energies from other groups, blessing the circle, cleansing or
purifying the participants (a process that Gladson testified takes 10 to 15 minutes per
person), passing salt, blessing water, and “calling liturgy and deities,” with periods of
meditation for “scrying” (the use of instruments such as a crystal ball or candle to
communicate with the dead). After the inmates complete the ritual, they then have the
Dumb Supper, which is a “lusty and wholehearted feast.” At the feast, the inmates eat,
socialize, play games, and continue scrying. The food items are supposed to be
seasonal, focusing on harvest time. The inmates are required to clean-up, put away
their celebratory items, and leave the chapel area by the end of the three-hour period. “
Once the prison accommodate a faith practice, there is considerable deference given to their locations of time and space if the prison offers any plausible foundation.
For the opinion, click here.