Opening Brief for Appellant Anthony Chernetsky


  • James A Sonne
  • Zeba A Huq
  • Sienna Marcelle
  • Nathan Weiser
  • Samuel Weiss
  • Oren Nimni
Publish Date:
March 21, 2023
  • James A Sonne et al., Opening Brief for Appellant Anthony Chernetsky, No. 21-16540 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Mar. 21, 2023).
Related Organization(s):


The federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”) famously provides broad protection for inmate religious exercise. Specifically, RLUIPA guarantees inmates the right to engage in their sincere religious practice absent a prison’s particularized showing that its limitation on such practice is the least restrictive way to serve a compelling interest. For nearly two decades, Nevada inmate Anthony Chernetsky has pursued this lawsuit to enforce that guarantee. The time
has come to end the saga in his favor.

Since 2004, the Nevada Department of Corrections (“NDOC”) has banned outright a crucial aspect of Chernetsky’s faith: anointment with natural oils. Despite being rebuked by this Court in a parallel religious oils case and now allowing synthetic scented oils, NDOC has refused to budge on natural oils—of any kind or amount, even where they are nonflammable and non-toxic, and regardless of whether they are donated, provided by an approved vendor, or kept with the chaplain.

Chernetsky has endured a long and lonely struggle to vindicate his rights under RLUIPA. In all of that time, NDOC has failed to offer a concrete and particularized justification for denying Chernetsky the oils his faith requires. Instead, it has relied on conclusory assertions about safety and administrability, and without distinguishing between natural and synthetic oils—a far cry from RLUIPA’s insistence on detailed evidence tailored to the plaintiff.