FL Sued by Feds Over Kosher Prison Meals
By Deanne Katz, Esq. on August 24, 2012
Florida’s prisons stopped serving kosher meals to inmates several years ago but now the federal government is taking notice.
The state was sued in federal court over its decision to stop providing kosher meals to inmates in the general population. The state previously provided kosher meals to about 250 inmates, according to Reuters. That program ended in 2007.
The government claims that Florida’s decision to stop offering kosher meals to prisoners is a violation of Constitutional rights.
Eating kosher meals is an important part of Jewish religious practice and covers meal preparation, acceptable ingredients, and how those ingredients are combined.
The most well-known kosher rules prohibit pork and ban mixing meat and milk in the same meal. The requirements for a kosher meal also meet the dietary needs of other religions including Islam and Seventh Day Adventism, reports Reuters.
The government alleges that Florida’s refusal to provide kosher meals is a violation of religious freedom since it prevents inmates from practicing their chosen faith.
Florida claims the termination of kosher prison meals is a cost cutting measure, reports Tampa Bay Times. They say the decision was not made to intentionally violate anyone’s rights.
But the federal government sees it differently.
They note that Florida provides a variety of other ‘special diet’ meals for inmates including vegetarian, vegan, and liquid meals. They also provide some kosher meals to inmates of a Miami prison but only those who are 59 or over and eligible for a work squad.
The fact that the prison system does provide some special meals to the general population but not kosher food could be a problem for Florida.
Courts have found government discrimination when there is a ‘disparate impact’ on a certain group without a legitimate government purpose. The policy does disadvantage certain religious groups who need specific meals.
The question in this lawsuit is whether Florida’s reason for cutting the program is legitimate.
Because litigation is pending, Florida prison officials were not willing to comment on the kosher prison meals issue. Whether their decision was ‘kosher’ remains to be seen.