Patrick McCollum Q&A at PSG 2011

On Monday night, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum held a press conference at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering where he discussed the recent 9th Circuit Court ruling in the Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; et al. case. The PSG Media Camp have provided me with audio of the entire Q&A, which I have uploaded to for public dissemination. The audio is in the public domain and may be rebroadcast by any podcast or radio show so long as proper attribution is made.

Listen to/download the audio here.

Here’s the initial write-up of the press conference from PNC reporter Cara Schulz:

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.

Another PSG media camp member, Iris Firemoon from PNC-Washington D.C., has posted a Facebook event to ask for community feedback on what move Patrick should take in this struggle.

We’ll post further updates as we know more. My thanks to Star Foster for recording and getting this audio to me.

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  • Selina Rifkin

    The public arena would mean that Pagans would need to be out and in the public eye. I already am, and am doing what I can to educate people about our religion, and will continue to do so. No matter what option is chosen, it’s an uphill battle.

  • Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    Here are my suggestions for Rev. McCollum. I’m still fixing to talk w/ you Saturday at PSG and donate some $$. Suggestions:

    1.) Setup a Pay Pal for donations immediately. I’m sure you could use a non-profit status from some organization. Circle?

    2.) Put ads in prisoners’ magazines nationally and in CA, including CA Lifer Newsletter, explaining the ramifications, leaning heavily on the “evangelizing” angle. This will express the urgency to all prisoners, including non-Pagan, those who aren’t of some evangelical sect.

    3.) File w/ the State Supreme Court. However, this is YOUR LIFE being hijacked for eight or more years. Nobody will blame you if you don’t wanna pursue the fight in this manner. But if you do, set it up in advance so it can move to a class action suit.

    4.) File w/ the Federal Court on grounds of establishment clause. Is there any reason you can’t do this simultaneously? Obviously the state of CA is establishing religion by selling chaplaincy to the highest bidder. There might be the reprecussion of ending the chaplain program all together, tho… then we’re back to individual unpaid chaplains visiting prisoners. Anyway. Also set it up in advance so a federal case can move to a class action suit (or whatever the heck it’s called in federal court).

    5.) As prisoners respond to ads, add them to a class action with both state and feds.

    6.) Send press releases to Pagan media outlining this case, just as has been done above, and requesting donations to the Pay Pal. Simplify it so mainstream can understand, with links to the entire issue for those who wish to know more.

    7.) Why is this an either-or with the lawsuit(s) or court of public opinion? Is there a gag order or some other reason you can’t both sue and appeal to the popular / mainstream press? Cuz I’m suggesting you do both.

    8.) Do readings to determine the best course of action. Do magick. But you knew that.

    Again, this is YOUR life, Rev. McCollum. If you wanna stop now, nobody will blame you. We are greatful for all of the work you’ve already done. Blessings.

  • JoHanna M. White

    There are links on Patrick’s website to send donations:

  • JoHanna M. White

    There are links on Patrick’s website to send donations:

  • Chris Highland

    Patrick is courageous in the face of an ignorant and oppressive system. I was an interfaith chaplain for many years and learned how insidious the agenda of many Evangelical groups can be. Some jails and prisons are transformed into mini (or mega) churches with a shallow, simplistic, narrow and judgmental message that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Light must continue to fall on these dark places in our society where religion is used as a weapon of control and conversion. Our citizens deserve much, much better. I will continue to speak out. Thank you Patrick.

  • Pedantic Brat

    I wonder if he’d be interested in getting other states involved. There is something similar happening in Kansas.

  • Rvndancer

    Says states are moving to end chaplain programs and replace with privately funded Evangelical chaplains. ***If this is truly what Patrick believes, then perhaps a coalition with other non-Christian groups, including Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, would be a stronger push to change the tide.

  • Mariane

    Do both. We’ll be there