Court Says Florida Prisons Must Offer Kosher Meal Option

| by Katie Landoll
Trays of kosher food prepared for prisoners. Trays of kosher food prepared for prisoners.

A federal appeals court has ruled that Florida must make kosher meals available to prisoners.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami decided U.S. v. Florida Department of Corrections in favor of the U.S. Justice Department on July 12, reports U.S. News. The ruling upholds a 2012 decision by a Florida judge.

The state, which estimated the cost of the kosher food program at $12.3 million, wanted the option of using the money elsewhere if necessary. The cost of a day of kosher meals in Florida is reportedly about $7, compared to $1.54 for standard meals.

In 2014, The New York Times reported that Florida corrections executives became alarmed at the growing cost of the program as more inmates – many likely not Jewish – requested kosher meals, presumably because they expected the kosher option to be fresher or more carefully made.

At the time, Florida was under a court order to make kosher meals available upon request. The state had stopped serving any religious meals to prisoners in 2007, saying the practice was expensive and unfair, but the 2012 lawsuit by the federal government brought the program back.

Florida argued that, in addition to creating potential inequality between prisoners, the kosher program used funds that could be used for security, transportation, medical costs, or other prison expenses.

In his 15-page decision on the case, Circuit Judge William Pryor said that Florida failed to successfully argue that the program was cost-prohibitive and ordered the corrections department to find the money to fund the kosher option.

“If the [corrections department] must provide kosher meals, then the Legislature must appropriate enough funds to honor that obligation,” Pryor wrote.

According to the Washington Free Beacon, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief in March, framing the case as a religious freedom issue.

“Every American should care about prisoners’ religious liberty,” Diana Verm of the Becket Fund told the Beacon. “If the government can provide religious freedom for one, they can for everyone. If they can take away one right, they can take away them all.”

Sources: U.S. News, The New York Times, ​The Washington Free Beacon / Photo credit: Troy Wayrynen/The Columbian via ​The New York Times

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