WASHINGTON, D.C. – The D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) has revised its religious diet policy in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of the District of Columbia on behalf of Riley Benjamin, a Jewish resident in DOC custody. On August 10th, the ACLU-D.C. filed a federal class action lawsuit against DOC officials alleging that they unlawfully refused to provide Mr. Benjamin and other Jewish people in their custody with kosher meals unless they could prove they were Jewish with a letter from a rabbi or similar verification. Mr. Benjamin asked the court to order DOC to stop its verification requirement.
In response to the lawsuit, DOC has now changed its policy and no longer requires such verification. The policy change requires DOC to supply kosher meals to Jewish individuals whose requests are based on a sincerely held religious belief. Mr. Benjamin is now receiving his kosher meals. As a result, ACLU-D.C. withdrew its request for emergency court action this morning.
“This change is an important step towards DOC respecting the religious rights of Jewish people like myself,” said Mr. Benjamin. “My faith has continued to sustain me, and it's essential that my rights, and those of others, are fully honored.”
“We are pleased that DOC is abandoning its unjust verification requirement,” said Laura Follansbee, a legal fellow at the ACLU-D.C. and counsel for Mr. Benjamin. "We remain committed to monitoring the situation closely to ensure that the DOC is fully respecting the rights of Jewish residents to maintain a kosher diet, without unlawful hurdles or discrimination. The freedom to practice one's religion is a fundamental principle enshrined in our Nation's values and laws.”
The case, Benjamin v. Colbert, remains active in the federal district court for the District of Columbia, seeking a permanent injunction prohibiting DOC from returning to its external verification requirement practice and compensation for Mr. Benjamin after his kosher meal requests were denied for months.