April 20, 2007
Prison Whine

Get thrown in the slammer in New Zealand and you can forget about seeing wine as part of eucharistic practices during religious services. The head of the country's Public Prisons Service says he has no choice but to ban communion wine from the institutions because of a Corrections Act adopted three years ago, reports New Zealand's Catholic News.

But the prohibition has stirred up politicians who see the restriction as an unnecessary restraint on religious diversity. "The last thing Parliament had in mind when passing the legislation in 2004 was banning the celebration of Mass in prisons, and it is stretching logic and common sense beyond any reasonable bounds to imply otherwise," says Peter Dunne, a New Zealand political leader.

He also was quoted as saying that denying inmates the opportunity to go to Mass is a denial of their human rights to worship, as recognized in New Zealand's Bill of Rights. He vows to appeal the matter to the country's Human Rights Commission.

In California prisons, meanwhile, the role of wine in religious observances is permitted at the discretion of individual wardens. "I believe it is common for wardens to approve it," says Terry Thornton, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

In California, the wine is kept in a secure location inaccessible to inmates, and only the priest or chaplain consumes it during services. No wine is given inmates, notes Thornton. "Any unused portion is returned to the designated secure location. This is our way of making a reasonable religious accommodation," Thornton adds.

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