Florida prisons must offer their inmates kosher meals, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.
The court based its ruling on parts of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person’s Act, which allows prisoners to worship freely and observe their religion. The court made its ruling on July 14, two days after hearing oral arguments in the case.
“This is a huge win, and it perfectly shows how protecting religious liberty for any Americans ultimately protects it for all Americans,” said Daniel Blomberg, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm that filed a friend-of-the-court brief.
The ruling upholds a Miami federal judge’s decision that Florida must offer meals to its 10,000 kosher-keeping inmates. Inmates seeking kosher meals are Jewish and Muslim, but Seventh-day Adventists may seek kosher food, if they are vegetarians.
The state, which stopped offering kosher meals in 2007, appealed the ruling, asking for permission to use the $12.3 million spent on kosher meals for other purposes. Kosher meals account for 0.02 percent of the Florida Department of Corrections’ annual budget.
Judge William Pryor, who authored the court’s opinion, stated that the court upheld the prior ruling because the secretary of the Department of Corrections had failed to show that there was a “compelling governmental interest” in eliminating the meals.
“The evidence offered by the Secretary is insufficient to survive summary judgment,” Pryor wrote. “She argues that the projected total cost for the meals is high, that the Department has a budget deficit, that she might have to eliminate 246 positions to pay for the meals, and that staff vacancies are high. But the Secretary offers no “concrete evidence concerning how other operations of the prison system would be affected by these increased costs, or about the deficit or the vacancies to conclude that they might make the asserted interest compelling.”
Thirty-five states and the federal Bureau of Prisons offer kosher meals to prisoners.