March 28, 2006

Sacramento jail sued for lack of vegan options

[Vegan is a "religion" now??]
A Sacramento attorney is suing Sacramento's Main Jail, saying his client's civil and religious rights have been denied since he has been refused a vegan diet. The inmate has been on a hunger strike since March 8, his attorney said.
Sacramento sheriff's officials say Eric Taylor McDavid, 28, is free to discard what he finds inedible, and still get a diet that meets nutritional standards.

McDavid is accused of conspiring to blow up Nimbus Dam and a nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova, and a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab in Placerville.

Mark Reichel, McDavid's criminal attorney who also filed the federal lawsuit Friday, said his client is suffering.

"He's not doing well, he's disoriented, tired and fatigued," Reichel said. "This really is beneath the dignity of a society that calls itself civilized."

Reichel is suing under a 2000 law that protects the religious rights of institutionalized people.

Reichel said McDavid has been a vegan for three years, and equates his avoidance of animal products to a religion.

"His vegan diet is based upon his strongly, sincerely and firmly held beliefs, which are the same as a religious belief," the lawsuit states.

Sacramento sheriff's legal affairs Lt. Scott Jones said he considers veganism to be a lifestyle choice. Nonetheless, he said, a dietitian has met with McDavid to determine that even if he discards animal products from his daily meals, his diet meets his nutritional needs.

Jones said McDavid has also been seen by the medical staff several times about his diet.

In general, Jones said, the department makes dietary accommodations for medical reasons, but not religious. He said people who keep kosher, halal and vegetarian diets can supplement their diets with items for sale in the jail's commissary. "They can not eat what they perceive as offensive and still get the minimum nutrition," he said.

Jerry Read of the Corrections Standards Authority, which regulates the state's jails, said his office does not regulate religious diets.

"Case law changes too often," he said. "It comes up a lot - I don't know how many lawsuits there are, but enough that we can't keep up with it."


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