ACLU files lawsuit against corrections, demanding kosher meals for Jewish inmates

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Idaho Department of Correction, seeking kosher meals for Jewish prisoners.

The federal lawsuit was filed after the ACLU failed to obtain the accommodations for Jewish inmates without litigation, according to an ACLU news release.

The lawsuit, filed by four Jewish prisoners, asks the judge for what’s called a preliminary injunction, which would require IDOC to provide kosher meals immediately.

A spokesman for IDOC said Monday that the department could not yet comment on the lawsuit because it had not been fully reviewed, as of Monday afternoon.

The prisoners who filed the case represent a variety of Jewish practice, ranging from Orthodox to Reform, but all need kosher food to follow the basic dietary requirements of their religion.

The ACLU reported that during Passover last month, two of the plaintiffs ate only fruit and matzo because IDOC allegedly did not provide meals that were kosher for Passover.

“Religion is a powerful motivator towards an improved life, and it is especially important to many prisoners in their path to rehabilitation,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Craig Durham of Ferguson Durham, PLLC, co-counsel with the ACLU of Idaho in the case. “The state of Idaho’s religious discrimination is not just unconstitutional, but counterproductive to the goal of corrections.”

The class action lawsuit claims that IDOC has violated the prisoners’ constitutional rights to free exercise of religion and to equal protection, claiming that IDOC provides meals that meet the dietary requirements of all but the Jewish religion. The lawsuit also claims that the state is violating federal and Idaho laws that liberally protect religious freedom.

A review of IDOC’s dietary policy shows the prisons offer inmates options for health-choice diets, which have reduced calories, fat, sodium and sugar, as well as vegetarian and vegan meals. The IDOC policy also includes a non-pork diet option and a “common fare” option.

The common fare option is described as having “vegan food items plus eggs, and/or dairy, and/or kosher meats, as well as cooking and serving procedures that maintain separation of dairy from meat and common fare foods from non-common fare foods.”

But the ACLU claims that the common fare food is still not kosher, claiming “IDOC neither designed nor intended the Common Fare diet to be kosher.”

The lawsuit claims the lack of kosher meals, among other things, is a violation of the inmates’ right to religious freedom.

IDOC has until May 25 to respond to the complaint.