This case is about the right of incarcerated Jewish people to keep a kosher diet in accordance with their religious beliefs, without having to provide external verification of their faith.

We sued three officials of the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) on behalf of Riley Benjamin for their unlawful refusal to provide Mr. Benjamin and other Jewish individuals in their custody with kosher meals absent external verification of their Jewish faith. DOC’s external verification practice requires confirmation of a person’s Jewish faith from a synagogue, rabbi, or through a letter of conversion before providing a religious dietary accommodation. DOC's practice places an excessive and undue burden on these individuals, infringing on their religious rights under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. We understand that Christian or Muslim individuals are not required to provide external verification of their faith to receive religious accommodations. The DOC officials named as defendants are Reverend Nicole Colbert, Chaplain Jimmie Allen, and Deputy Director Jacqueline Williams.

The lawsuit, filed as a class action, primarily seeks a court order to prohibit DOC officials from imposing requirements on Jewish people in their custody to provide external verification of their religion as a condition for approving their kosher meal requests. The lawsuit also asks the court to require DOC to supply kosher meals to Jewish individuals who request them based on their sincere desire to maintain kosher dietary practices as a part of the practice of their faith. In addition to a court order requiring DOC to comply with the law going forward, Mr. Benjamin’s lawsuit seeks compensation for the denial of his kosher meal requests and, more broadly, to set a precedent that protects the right of Jews and individuals of all faiths to obtain religious accommodations.

Two weeks after we filed the lawsuit, DOC revised its policy and no longer requires external verification of faith. The new policy requires DOC officials to supply kosher meals to Jewish individuals whose requests are based on a sincerely held religious belief. Mr. Benjamin is also now receiving kosher meals. As a result, we withdrew our request for emergency court action.

In the spring of 2024, the District agreed to a satisfactory settlement to compensate Mr. Benjamin, and we dismissed the case pursuant to the settlement agreement.

Date filed

August 10, 2023


U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia