PHOENIX — A federal judge granted a request Wednesday from Arizona native Jacob Chansley, also known as the "Q Shaman," to be served only organic food while in federal custody.
Chansley was arrested in January after pictures and video captured him inside the U.S. Capitol during the deadly riot on Jan. 6. He has since been transferred to the Alexandria Detention Center in Virginia.
Chansley told the prison chaplain, according to a court filing, that he had been eating organic food for about eight years and that it was central to his religious beliefs.
“If I have to go a week [without] food or longer then so be it,” Chansley is quoted as saying in a court document. “I will stay committed to my spiritual/religious beliefs even if it means I suffer physically.”
While a report of Chansley’s request recently went viral, with commenters on Twitter making fun of the horned, tattooed protester now requesting organic meals in federal prison, Phoenix attorney Trudy Rush said the law is clear: Requests like Chansley’s and their granting by judges are standard.
“I would’ve been surprised if it had come out any other way,” Rushforth said.
Rushforth wrote her law school thesis on religious accommodations. She cites the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act as the reason behind the ruling.
“For these purposes, any correctional facility that receives federal funding which is nearly all of them is required to accommodate prisoners’ religious practices,” Rushforth said.
“Diets are the most common form of religious accommodation, and so it’s very common and very understood that this is something that can and should be accommodated.”
According to Rushforth, an inmate’s religious belief need only be sincere to be accommodated. Prisons may also refuse to accommodate requests that jeopardize prison security or that are too costly.
For example, observers of the Sikh religion are required to carry a small dagger called a kirpan as one of the Five Articles of Faith that they must always have on them. However, a prisoner carrying a dagger could jeopardize prison security, so requests by Sikh prisoners to carry the kirpan have been denied.
“Things that are overly expensive are generally also not accommodated,” Rushforth said.
“So, for example, if someone needed a religious diet that was 100 times more expensive, that wouldn’t be reasonable. But if it’s only two or three times more expensive, that is more likely to be reasonable.”
Chansley stands accused of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
If convicted, he could face months or years in prison. If convicted, he would get his organic meals during that time.
“Even after a conviction, you don’t surrender all of your rights just upon becoming a prisoner,” Rushforth said. “These people are still human, and they are entitled to certain constitutional rights.”
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