Press Release

Inmate Drops Lawsuit after Florida Ordered to Provide a Kosher Diet

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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Washington, D.C.Today, an Orthodox Jewish prison inmate ended his four-year-old lawsuit seeking a kosher diet, thanks to a recent court ruling requiring Florida to provide all Jewish prison inmates with a kosher diet. Florida is the only remaining major prison system objecting to providing kosher meals to observant Jewish prisoners.

“This is a major victory for religious freedom,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at Becket. “Florida is finally being ordered to join 35 other states and the federal government in protecting the rights of Jewish prisoners.”

Bruce Rich was born and raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. Since his incarceration, the Florida Department of Corrections has denied him a kosher diet, citing alleged cost and security concerns. Becket represented Mr. Rich, arguing that the denial of a kosher diet violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act because it forces him to choose between his religious practice and adequate nutrition.

In May of 2013, Mr. Rich won a major victory in the Eleventh Circuit, which ruled that “the evidence submitted by the [Florida Department of Corrections] on summary judgment in support of its position is insubstantial.” As the court noted, at least thirty-five states and the federal government currently provide kosher diets without problems of cost or security. In light of this evidence, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Department of Corrections made only “meager efforts to explain why Florida’s prisons are so different from the penal institutions that now provide kosher meals such that the plans adopted by those other institutions would not work in Florida.”

After Mr. Rich filed his lawsuit, the United States Department of Justice filed a parallel lawsuit making the same claims against Florida. In response to the United States’ lawsuit, on December 6, 2013, a federal court ordered Florida to begin providing a kosher diet to all Jewish inmates in the state. The ruling relies on Mr. Rich’s victory at the 11th Circuit, and orders Florida to begin providing kosher meals no later than July 1, 2014. In response to this ruling, Mr. Rich voluntarily dismissed his lawsuit, effective today.

“It’s too bad that it took multiple lawsuits for Florida to do what it should be doing anyway—allow Jewish prisoners to follow Judaism,” added Goodrich. “Prisons should not be faith-free zones.”

In addition to winning Mr. Rich’s appeal at the 11th Circuit, Becket won a previous kosher diet case against Florida, kosher diet cases against Georgia and Texas, and assisted in a similar victory against Indiana. Becket has never lost a case when suing a prison system over the denial of a kosher diet.

Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 19 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. Becket recently won a 9-0 Supreme Court victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”