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Washington Settles Religious Diet Claim for $1,500

The State of Washington settled a prisoner’s religious diet suit by paying him $1,500, granting him a vegan diet and amending a prison policy.

On May 14, 2004, McNeal Island Correction Center (MICC) prisoner Joe Macom listed his religious preference as Native American. Then, on January 8, 2005, he changed the designation to Native American and Seventh Day Adventist (SDA). Macom claimed that prison officials changed the form.

According to prison officials, on April 25, 2005, the North Pacific Union Conference Northwest Headquarters of SDA informed Macom that Native American beliefs were incompatible with SDA beliefs.

On September 27, 2005, Macom’s request for a religious diet was denied by MICC Chaplain Tom Suss. On October 5, 2005, Macom filed a Level I grievance, stating in part that Suss was “aware that I am a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and that the Twenty-First...Fundamental Doctrine of the church is ‘vegetarian diet.’” He alleged that the denial violated his rights under the Washington and United States Constitutions and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).

On November 16, 2005, prison officials denied the grievance on the basis of the April 25, 2005 SDA letter. Macom then filed a Level II grievance on November 28, 2005, which was denied on December 16, 2005.

On December 21, 2005, Macom filed his Level III grievance stating: “the letter of April 25, 2005, clearly states ‘spirit worship’ is incompatible with SDA Church beliefs. It does not, however, say anything about ‘Native American.’ The SDA Church has made several attempts to work with this institution, as have I. Please understand I am a member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Your denying me the ability to perform the dictates of the church violates my rights under the Constitution…as well as jeopardizes my relationship with (YHWH) god.”

Prison officials denied Macom’s Level III grievance on January 9, 2006, stating: “Your religious preference identifies your religious practice as Native American. In order for you to identify with more than one religious practice and receive a religious diet, you must meet the requirements of DOC Policy 560.210. You have not met these requirements.

Macom brought federal suit, alleging that denial of a religious diet violated his rights under the Constitution and RLUIPA. On September 4, 2007, prison officials settled the action by: paying Macom $1,500.00; deleting “language from DOC policy 560.210,…requiring offenders seeking dual religious preference designation to have approval from each religion;” and granting Macom “his preferred religious diet, currently vegan.” See: Macom v. Suss, USDC WD WA, Case No. C05-5338-FDB-KLS (WD Wa. 2007).

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Related legal case

Macom v. Suss