Freedom of Religion, Unless You're a Witch: Rockbridge Regional Jail Sued for Access to Wiccan Bible
Written by: Sam Orlando
LEXINGTON, VA — Ah, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where everyone is entitled to freedom of religion—unless, apparently, you're behind bars at Rockbridge Regional Jail in Lexington, Virginia, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday in federal court.
Michael T. Mahler, an inmate, filed a federal lawsuit today under the Civil Rights Act 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that his request for a Wicca Bible was denied, thus violating his First Amendment rights. Mahler, who clearly still holds quaint notions like "freedom of religion," has accused Chad Hamilton, an administrator at the jail, of blocking his constitutional right to practice his faith.
Filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, the lawsuit outlines an alleged Kafkaesque series of events that unfolded after Mahler requested a copy of The Wicca Bible: The Definitive Guide to Magic and the Craft by Ann-Marie Gallagher. According to Mahler, he was initially told that Hamilton had approved and ordered the religious text. In a plot twist worthy of an Orwell novel, Mahler later learned that the book was suddenly "unavailable" on the jail's tablets.
It's always uplifting to see authorities doubling as constitutional scholars, interpreting the First Amendment with such nuance. After all, who knew that freedom of religion could be subject to the availability on a jail's tablet? One might wonder if the same limitations apply to other religious texts like the Bible or the Quran.
Mahler is asking the court for $10 million in damages, and while that figure may raise eyebrows, can one really put a price on constitutional rights? In a world where some people argue that even prisoners are entitled to basic human rights, Mahler's case offers a provocative counter-narrative: maybe some rights are more equal than others.
The Commonwealth of Virginia, bless its heart, will likely remind us that it is immune under the Eleventh Amendment from such cases. But Mahler's complaint raises questions that may not be so easily ignored: Is religious freedom a universal right or one that's selectively granted?
Lawyers and court watchers will undoubtedly keep an eye on this case as it winds its way through the federal court system, and who knows? Maybe it will even inspire a few legal seminars on the elasticity of the First Amendment.
In the meantime, the inmate—along with the rest of us—awaits a lesson in constitutional interpretation that only the U.S. justice system can deliver.