Written by Don Byrd

A new class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Idaho on behalf of Jewish prisoners charges the Idaho Department of Corrections with refusing to provide kosher meals despite repeated requests. The plaintiffs argue the denial violates their religious liberty rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

The Spokesman-Review reports:

According to documents filed in the court case, the Idaho Department of Correction requested a report from Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz in 2005 on its religious accommodations for Jewish prison inmates. Lifshitz reported that IDOC could fulfill requirements for kosher meals by providing sealed, pre-prepared certified kosher meals, as do most state prison systems; many also supplement those with fruit or other cold items that already are kosher.

While IDOC’s internal “Handbook of Religious Beliefs and Practices” specifically requires that Jewish inmates be provided a kosher diet upon request, including kosher-for-Passover meals during that holiday, the department instead has taken the position that it doesn’t offer any religion-specific diet, instead offering all inmates a choice between a “mainline” menu or five “selective diet options.”

Some might question, “Is it really that important to provide inmates with kosher meals?” Simply put yourself in the plaintiffs’ shoes, their attorney asks:

“I think everyone can think for themselves what it would mean to be placed into a situation where you violate your religious beliefs every single time that you ate,” said Richard Eppink, ACLU of Idaho legal director. “Religious freedom is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, whether you are incarcerated or not.”

For more on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s RLUIPA resource page.