Jewish Prison Inmate Wins Major Victory in Battle for Kosher Food “Today’s decision is a great victory for human rights and religious liberty”
Ryan Colby 202-349-7219 email@example.com
Washington, DC — Today the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted a major victory to a Jewish prison inmate who is seeking to receive a kosher diet in accordance with his religious beliefs.
“Today’s decision is a great victory for human rights and religious liberty,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at Becket. “Even prisoners retain basic human rights, and the state cannot sacrifice those rights on the altar of bureaucratic convenience.”
The plaintiff in the case is Bruce Rich, an Orthodox Jewish prison inmate who has been denied kosher food by the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) for many years. In 2010, he filed a lawsuit alleging that the denial of a kosher diet violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, because it forces Mr. Rich to choose between his religious practice and adequate nutrition. A federal district court dismissed his lawsuit in 2012, but Becket took on the case free of charge and filed an appeal.
“Prisoners surrender many of their physical rights at the jailhouse door, but they do not surrender the fundamental right of conscience,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel at Becket. “Bureaucratic stubbornness should not prevent a handful of prisoners from peacefully following the centuries-old commands of Judaism.”
In the appeal, the DOC argued that denying a kosher diet was necessary in order to control costs and maintain security. However, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that “the evidence submitted by the [DOC] on summary judgment in support of its position is insubstantial.” Moreover, 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 DOC 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.”
The case will now be remanded to federal district court for further proceedings. At the same time, the DOC is facing a parallel lawsuit by the United States Department of Justice over the same policy of denying kosher food.
At issue in both cases is the scope of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), a federal civil rights law that was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The law protects both the religious exercise of prisoners, and the freedom of religious organizations to use land for religious purposes. Becket filed the nation’s first lawsuit under RLUIPA, and has been involved in hundreds of RLUIPA lawsuits since then—including scores of lawsuits protecting churches, and two lawsuits that forced prison systems in Georgia and Texas to begin providing kosher diets.
Eighteen different organizations filed five separate amicus briefs supporting Mr. Rich’s appeal. The amici represented a broad array of Jewish, Christian, Hindu, and nonreligious groups, including the ACLU, the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Jewish Committee, Aleph Institute, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Hindu American Foundation.
Becket 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 have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. Becket recently won a 9-0 victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”
For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Melinda Skea at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202.349.7224.