AP, Saturday August 31, 2002 7:20 PM
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – The Kentucky Department of Corrections has suspended formal satanic worship services at the Green River Correctional Complex while officials work to shape a statewide policy on the practice.
Inmates at Green River, a medium-security prison in Central City, had been allowed to hold weekly satanic services this summer as part of the official religious services calendar, said Lisa Carnahan, a Corrections spokeswoman.
“We honestly didn’t know it was on the religious calendar,” Carnahan said after the Lexington Herald-Leader questioned the practice.
“We are researching it to see what we are required to allow under the law. But we’ve found information that indicates that satanic services could be a threat to the institutions, so for now we won’t aid or abet satanic worship,” she said.
Under federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, correctional institutions may not prohibit the exercise of inmates’ religious freedom, as long as the practice of the recognized religion does not compromise the safety of other inmates or the staff, said Joe Weedon, manager of government affairs for the American Correctional Association.
Satanic services were suspended Thursday at Green River after the newspaper’s inquiry.
Inmates of at least two of the state’s other 14 prisons practice Satanism on their own, Carnahan said.
Carnahan said the state has not suspended Wiccan services, which also are held at Green River and three other prisons. Wicca practices witchcraft but sees the divine in every element of nature.
“We don’t have any materials that indicate that Wicca compromises the safety of the institutions,” Carnahan said.
The issue arose at Green River a few months ago when one inmate sought permission to practice Satanism.
Warden Patti Webb decided it was safer to give inmates a specific time and place to worship, where they would be monitored, rather than letting them practice among themselves on the prison yard, Carnahan said.
Only two inmates showed up last week for the satanic services at Green River, Carnahan said.
Kentucky officials have learned that policies in other states vary. For instance, prison officials in Texas, where 150 inmates say they follow Satanism, prohibit the services.
“We’ve looked at the satanic bible and are convinced that what it advocates would put our prisons at risk, safety-wise,” said Donald Kaspar, chaplain for the Texas system. “One of their tenets is revenge – if somebody hurts you, hurt them back.”
Weedon said he didn’t think numbers have been compiled on how many inmates across the United States practice Satanism.