Chamberlain v. Mims (Religious Dietary Restrictions in Fresno County Jail)

Closed Case
Aug 11, 2015

Page Media

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California filed a religious-liberty lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to end the Fresno County Sheriff's policy that denies people held in Fresno County jails access to food that complies with their religious dietary restrictions.

State and federal law require jails to provide inmates with religious diets that accommodate their religious beliefs. The Fresno County jail, however, is violating the law by requiring inmates to prove not just that their religious beliefs are sincere but also that their beliefs and practices conform to the government's view of what religion should be. The jail’s policy impacts people of various faiths. The Fresno County jail denies religious diets to many of these individuals because it requires inmates to be practicing members of what the jail deems to be a “major, legitimate, recognized religious community” and to “provide information regarding their religious affiliation, clergy, and place of worship” in order to receive religious dietary accommodations. The lawsuit asserts that this policy violates both federal and state constitution and must stop.

The suit was filed against the Fresno County Sheriff and the County in Superior Court in Fresno County. 

On July 15, 2014, defendants removed the matter to federal court.

On July 28, 2014, defendants moved to dismiss the matter.

On August 5, 2014, plaintiffs moved to remand.

On Nov. 24, 2014, the federal court granted plaintiffs’ motion to remand, sending the matter back to state court.

On Aug. 11, 2015, the Fresno County Sheriff and the County entered into a settlement in which they agreed to a new religious diet policy. The new policy requires the jail to provide inmates with religious diets to accommodate their religious beliefs. Consistent with federal and state law, eligibility for a religious diet will be based on whether the diet conforms with inmate’s sincerely held religious beliefs. The jail can no longer deny religious diets to inmates who do not adhere to the jail’s criteria for practicing a particular religion.

Also, as part of the settlement the jail will provide receipts to inmates who request religious diets in order to help ensure that their requests are considered and they have an opportunity to use the grievance procedure regulated by California law to challenge an adverse determination.

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ACLU Foundation of Northern California Files Religious-Liberty Lawsuit against Fresno County Jails

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