Court Lets Wiccan Inmate Wear Pentacle

     CHICAGO (CN) – An Illinois man serving a 52-year sentence for murder can do so wearing a Wiccan pentacle medallion meant to ward off evil, the Seventh Circuit ruled.
     Gilbert Knowles, who was convicted in 2010 of the murder of his then-girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, wants to wear a 1-inch-wide medallion that features an upright five-pointed star in a ring.
     In the 2014 suit he filed over the medallion, Knowles noted that “the Pentacle is an essential part of Wicca as well as our sacred symbol.” He says it protects his body and spirit against “harm, evil entities and negative energy.”
     Knowles’ medallion comports size-wise with prison jewelry regulations, and the Pontiac Correctional Center actually issued the inmate a jewelry-retention permit that proved short-lived. Warden Randy Pfister confiscated the medallion the next day, claimed that five- or six-sided stars could be mistaken as a gang symbol,
     Though Knowles argued that his medallion was a protected part of his religious observation, a federal judge denied him an injunction without addressing the merits or the warden’s defense.
     The Seventh Circuit reversed Wednesday under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, saying the prison failed to show that confiscating Knowles’ medallion is the least restrictive means of furthering its interest.
     Indeed, Knowles had even offered “to wear his medallion under his shirt whenever he’s outside his cell to protect himself from being identified as a gang member,” the ruling notes.
     Warden Pfister argued that other inmates might see the medallion while Knowles was showering, but the court said “nothing in the record supports this contention.”
     “There isn’t even evidence that the plaintiff ever wears his medallion in the shower, or that the wearing of a pentacle medallion, whether openly or under one’s shirt, by any prisoner at Pontiac has ever caused a problem,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for a three-person panel (emphasis in original).
     The 5-page opinion also cites the affidavit Knowles provide from a fellow Wiccan prisoner who also had his pentacle medallion confiscated but prevailed in court.
     “The affiant attested that he’d worn his medallion in maximum security prisons since 1998 without ever experiencing threats or violence from other inmates,” Posner wrote
     Knowles satisfied the threshold for a preliminary injunction, the court found.
     “His freedom of religion has been gratuitously infringed by the prison,” Posner wrote.
     A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections did not respond to an email seeking comment.
     

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