Moussazadeh v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice (2005 – present)

Image: Moussazadeh v. Texas Department of Criminal Justice (2005 – present)

Max Moussazadeh is an observant Jew confined in the Texas prison system. When he asked the state to accommodate his religious beliefs by providing him with a kosher diet, the state refused. Thus, in October 2005, The Becket Fund joined forces with megafirm Latham & Watkins LLP and filed a lawsuit against Texas. The lawsuit alleges that the state has unlawfully restricted Mr. Moussazadeh’s religious exercise in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

While the vast majority of state prison systems, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, provide observant Jewish inmates with kosher diets, Texas is one of the few remaining holdouts. This despite the fact that Texas estimates it can feed all of its Jewish prisoners a kosher diet for less than 0.02% of its annual food budget, and overwhelming evidence that accommodating prisoners’ religious beliefs reduces prison violence and the number of repeat offenders.

After the Becket Fund filed suit, 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.

On December 21, 2012, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Max Moussazedeh.

The lawsuit centers 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.

*Photo used by permission, credit: istock
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