Judge forbids casting of spells at Illinois prison

Post-Dispatch, Nov. 5, 2002

A practitioner of witchcraft won’t be casting any spells at the federal prison in Pekin, Ill., a judge in East St. Louis ruled last week in a religious freedom case.

On Oct. 30, the day before Halloween, U.S. District Judge Michael J. Reagan ruled against Kerry D. O’Bryan’s demand to perform spells as part of his observance of the Wiccan religion.

O’Bryan, 32, of Kansas, is a bank robber and counterfeiter who received more than 29 years in prison for a robbery that took place in September 1996.

A Federal Bureau of Prisons ban on spells and curses, enacted in May of last year, includes the medium-security prison at Pekin, where O’Bryan is housed.

After O’Bryan’s request was denied through the administrative appeal process, he filed suit in East St. Louis claiming the policy violates his First Amendment rights and also runs counter to the Religion Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. He sued the bureau, its director and regional directors, and the warden at Pekin.

“The casting of ‘spells’ and the use of ‘magick’ is a well documented exercise of the Wiccan religion,” O’Bryan wrote.

It did not indicate whether the practices require a ceremony, or exactly what he claimed to be prevented from doing.

The Bureau of Prisons provided only a basic explanation for the reasons why spells are prohibited — that they aren’t authorized “in the interest of security and good order of the institution.”

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