U.S. v. Florida Department of Corrections

Becket Role:
Amicus

Scoreboard

Decision:
Won
Decision Date:
July 14, 2016
Deciding Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Case Summary

Prisoners are not popular. But they are human. That is why Becket defends religious freedom for prisoners.

In 2000, Congress discovered that government bureaucrats were routinely trampling religious freedom in prison. They were needlessly confiscating sacred texts, breaking up worship meetings, and banning religious diets. So Congress unanimously passed a law that forbids arbitrary restrictions on religious freedom in prison.

Invoking that law, for over a decade Becket has defended the rights of religious prisoners in Florida, which until recently was one of the last remaining prison systems in the country that still insisted that it has the right to deny its inmates religious appropriate diets. Becket has twice sued Florida over the denial of a kosher diet—first in 2002, then in 2012. Both times it received a favorable result on behalf of one observant prisoner. Then the United States government itself sued the Florida Department of Corrections on behalf of all observant prisoners.

In 2015, a federal district court ordered the Department to begin providing kosher meals for all observant Jewish inmates, and the Department appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Becket, represented by the global law firm Jones Day, filed an amicus brief in March 2016 urging the protection of the religious rights of all prisoners. The brief points out that at least 35 states and the federal government provide kosher diets to Jewish prisoners, and there is no reason the Florida Department of Corrections can’t do the same. The Court heard oral argument took place in July 2016, and two days later, ordered the Department to provide religious diets for observant Jewish prisoners. In October 2016, in another case that Becket supported via amicus brief, the Court ruled that the Department must provide a religious diet for a Muslim inmate.

Becket, which has successfully represented or supported religious prisoners in Georgia, Texas, Indiana, and in past Florida cases, has never lost a case concerning a prison system’s denial of religious diets. In 2015, it won a landmark, 9-0 ruling in favor of prisoners at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Case Information

Becket Role:
Amicus
Case Start Date:
August 14, 2012
Current Court:
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
Original Court:
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida
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