LOS ANGELES (CN) — Members of the Krishna Consciousness movement sued the University of California, claiming UCLA has unconstitutionally prohibited them from offering daily vegetarian lunches in the campus “free speech” area.
Krishna Lunch of Southern California, joined by five students and UCLA employee, say they offer the meals as “an essential component” of exercising their religious beliefs, and as a way to communicate “the importance of animal protection and the health and environmental benefits of a vegan/vegetarian diet” to the university community.
But they say in their Nov. 16 federal lawsuit that university officials “refuse to allow plaintiffs any access to the UCLA campus whatsoever for this purpose.”
They say the defendant Regents of the University of California are violation their First Amendment rights to religion, speech and association, which also are protected by the California constitution.
UCLA’s vice chancellor for communications Kathryn Kranhold said Thursday that the regents had not yet been served, and could not comment.
The Krishna Lunch project is connected to the large International Society of Krishna Consciousness Center in west Los Angeles, their attorney Robert Moest said. The idea to serve meals at UCLA came from a similar, long-running program at the University of Florida.
“That feeds a lot of people,” Moest said. “The people here were hoping to do the same thing.”
The members say a core tenet of Krishna consciousness requires followers to “approach people in public places in order to proselytize.”
Another core belief is that eating “sanctified, vegetarian and vegan food — known in the Sanskrit language as ‘prasada’ — is essential for the spiritual and material welfare of society.”
UCLA is a prime spot for proselytizing with prasada because, according to the lawsuit, it does not offer vegetarian meals.
“Furthermore, the vegetarian and vegan options ostensibly available at UCLA are primarily condiments for meat entrees, and the selection is very limited.”
Additionally, “UCLA has expressly affirmed its robust commitment to the exercise of expressive and religious rights on its property,” and it has a “free speech area” for that purpose.
Early this year, Krishna Lunch negotiated with UCLA officials about the plan, promising to meet all health, safety and permit requirements. But in August, a UCLA attorney said they could offer the lunches only four times a year, and could be prosecuted if they did more.
A UCLA attorney wrote in a letter that the university was concerned about “establishing a ‘precedent’ for such a program,” according to the complaint.
The four-day limit may relate to a section of the state Health & Safety Code that limits the operation of registered “nonprofit charitable temporary food facilities” to four days per year.
In 2006, the university apparently cited that standard in canceling biweekly vegetarian lunches being sold by another Krishna consciousness group, according to an article in the Daily Bruin campus newspaper.
Krishna Lunch claims the four-day limit is “tantamount to a total ban on plaintiffs’ right to freedom of speech and expression in a public forum.”
To Moest, UCLA is being “very controlling about their space.”
The plaintiffs believe the university “has to be generous” in offering access to its public space.
“There has to be a solid reason [to deny access], and we don’t think they have that,” Moest says.
Krishna Lunch seeks declaratory judgment that UCLA’s restrictions are unconstitutional, and an injunction.
After all, Moest said, “Doesn’t everyone want to eat vegetarian food these days?”