SANTA FE (KRQE) – A state prison inmate claims corrections officials aren’t allowing him to properly worship Satan behind bars. In a lawsuit, first reported by the Santa Fe Reporter Tuesday, Bernard Pritchard says the chaplain and deputy warden at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces treated his faith differently than others.
“Defendants denied plaintiff a reasonable opportunity of pursuing his faith comparable to the opportunity afforded to fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts,” wrote Pritchard in the lawsuit, which he file pro se.
Pritchard, serving time on aggravated stalking charges he was convicted for in 2013, was transferred to the state’s facility in Grants in May and filed the lawsuit in early September. He’s asking for a judge to force the New Mexico Corrections Department to let him worship Satan more freely and wants $140,000 in damages.
The lawsuit doesn’t spell out specifically how Pritchard believes his rights were violated or what he was prevented from doing by prison officials.
The New Mexico Corrections Department declined comment on the lawsuit but a top official tells News 13 the department does its best to safely accommodate every inmate’s religious beliefs.
“[They have been] given a right to practice those faiths and we want to make sure that we’re respectful of their rights,” said Anthony Romero, deputy director of adult prisons with the New Mexico Corrections Department.
That includes working around dietary considerations and allowing inmates to skip work on holy days. There are even sweat lodges built outside of some prison facilities to accommodate Native American religious beliefs.
New Mexico Corrections policy includes guidelines for 19 different religious groups, in many cases very specific guidelines.
For example, Roman Catholic priests are limited to bringing up to 3 ounces of wine for Communion behind bars and that wine is for that priest’s consumption only.
Inmates practicing Asatru or Odinism, a Norse-based religion, are allowed to have a “Thor’s Hammer up to 12″ (constructed of strong cardboard).” But Satanism is the only religion in the guidelines without specifics. Its entry says holy days, worship practices and allowable religious items are “subject to security and safety considerations.”
Micah McCoy with the ACLU of New Mexico says there are constitutional protections for religious practice but the law when it comes to inmates is complicated and nuanced.
“In certain contexts such as a correctional facility, there has to be some restrictions on inmate behavior,” McCoy said.
“There are from time to time issues that might come up with security concerns,” Romero acknowledged.
It’s unclear if that was the case with Pritchard.