Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, called for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reject the Florida Department of Corrections’ appeal claiming that it can refuse to provide kosher food in its prisons on financial grounds. The Eleventh Circuit Court is scheduled to hear Florida’s appeal of United States of America v. Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections and Florida Department of Corrections on Tuesday, October 7.
The Orthodox Union, together with other leading Orthodox Jewish organizations, filed a “Friend of the Court” brief, authored by noted attorney Nathan Lewin, contesting Florida’s assertion in the case. In the brief, the organizations argued that by denying kosher food to all its inmates because of a “participation explosion” in the kosher diet program, the state of Florida has “suppressed a fundamental observance of the Jewish faith.” They also refuted the “startling assertion” that cost is a permissible legal justification for denying kosher food to religiously observant prison inmates, and noted that Florida’s position is in violation of the federal Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act―a religious freedom statute the OU helped craft and pass into law in 2000.
“Keeping kosher, or observing a kosher diet, is one of the most basic elements of Judaism. While Florida may have experienced a wave of interest by all its inmates in the kosher diet program, this does not permit the state to deprive the small number of its Jewish inmates from observing the laws of kashrut. Doing so is a violation of their religious rights. The spurious argument of financial hardship made by the state of Florida must be rejected,” said Nathan Diament, executive director for public policy of the Orthodox Union. “We urge the Eleventh Circuit Court to find against Florida in Tuesday’s hearing.”
The full text of the amicus brief can be viewed here.