Jewish Prison Inmate Wins Major Victory in Battle for Kosher Food

Image: Jewish Prison Inmate Wins Major Victory in Battle for Kosher Food

“Today’s decision is a great victory for human rights and religious liberty” 

For Immediate Release: December 21, 2012
Media Contact: Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224

Washington, DC — After seven years of litigation, a Jewish prison inmate in Texas today won a major victory in his quest to receive a kosher diet in accordance with his religious beliefs. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Max Moussazadeh has a sincere religious belief in keeping a kosher diet, that Texas burdened his religious beliefs by denying him kosher food, and that the lower court should decide whether Texas can prove that it has a “compelling interest” in maintaining its current policies. The court stated that “we are skeptical” that the state’s desire to cut costs would pass legal muster.

“Today’s decision is a great victory for human rights and religious liberty,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Even prisoners retain their human rights, and the state cannot sacrifice those rights on the altar of bureaucratic convenience.”

Currently, at least thirty-five states and the federal government provide a kosher diet to all observant Jewish inmates. Texas is one of the few remaining holdouts. It estimates that the cost of feeding all observant Jewish inmates in its prison system would be less than 0.02% of its annual food budget.

“If thirty-five states and the federal government can provide kosher diets to all of their observant Jewish inmates, there is no reason Texas cannot do the same,” said Goodrich.

After the Becket Fund filed suit, together with megafirm Latham & Watkins, LLP, Texas established a “kosher kitchen” at one of its prison facilities and began providing a kosher diet. But it still denies kosher food to Jewish inmates who are transferred away from that facility. The Becket Fund is also fighting a similar lawsuit against the State of Florida.

Both lawsuits center on a federal civil rights law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). The law protects not only prisoners but also religious land uses—such as religious schools, soup kitchens, and houses of worship. The Becket fund has won numerous cases under RLUIPA defending a wide variety of religious expression across the country.

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty  is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 18 years its attorneys are recognized as experts in the field of church-state law.  For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

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Additional Information:

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion

Case Page

 

*Photo used by permission, credit: istock