Daniel LaPlante is serving a life sentence in Massachusetts for murdering a teacher and drowning her two children. Now he is suing the state’s Department of Corrections and a prison superintendent, claiming that he has been denied access to items he needs to practice his Wiccan faith. The list of 121 items he has requested includes dragon’s blood, dandelion, carrot cake with frosting, and pens in seven different colors.
He also wants access to medallions such as “Thor’s Hammer” and “Phases of the Moon.” Of course, taxpayers would foot the bill as prison authorities hunt down such esoteric items and provide them free of charge to LaPlante. In addition, the prisoner wants outdoor space rather than the prison basement to perform Wiccan rituals, and a communal meal on feast days.
Do you sometimes wonder how far we should take religious freedom?
If this issue were restricted to Wiccans in prison, I wouldn’t bring it up this morning. But it’s part of a much larger debate that I predict will escalate in coming years: If one religion can be practiced in public, shouldn’t all religions expect the same access?
What about Satanists in high schools? Atheist groups on college campuses (whose numbers are proliferating these days)? One recently sponsored “Blasphemy Day” and a “War on Christmas” Party. The “Secular Student Alliance” has been called “a sort of Godless Campus Crusade for Christ”; its chapters are multiplying across the country.
Here’s my belief: In a debate on the merits, the gospel will win. If Christians will “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), the Spirit will always use our words and witness to advance the Kingdom. As Jesus promised, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Can we exclude Satanist and atheist groups from the same campuses where we want to share our faith? Since the government allows Christians to worship in prison, can it forbid Wiccans? On the other hand, I cannot find any prisons that provide Bibles and other Christian resources free of charge to inmates (it seems that churches donate these or prisoners buy them); should we be made to pay for Wiccan worship elements?
Let’s trust George Washington with the last word: “While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the conscience of others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to Him only in this case are they answerable.”