July 15, 2015 ... SEE UPDATE (below)
Florida has had a difficult time defending its denial of kosher meals to Jewish inmates.
Although Florida's prison system provides Halal meals to Muslims, officials rejected Jewish prisoners' request for kosher meals setting off a lawsuit in federal court.
“We're talking about a diet that 35 states and the federal government provide in their prison systems,” says attorney Daniel Blomberg of the Becket Fund, which is working on behalf of Jewish inmates.
He says the cost, $3.55 per day per observant Jewish prisoner, is not much for the Florida Department of Corrections.
“We're talking about two-tenths of one percent of a $3 billion budget to protect fundamental human rights for prisoners in Florida," he tells OneNewsNow.
A lower court ordered the prisons to serve kosher meals but the case then went to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where Blomberg says justices raised serious questions.
“When the court pressed them and said, You're doing this now. Can you show me any actual harms that you have proven result from providing this diet? Can you show me this on this record? Florida was not able to do that,” the attorney says. “Florida wasn't able to point to a single solitary problem that resulted from providing these diets to Jewish prisoners.”
The appeals court decision should come in the next two months.
UPDATE (July 15, 2016) ...
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Jewish inmates in state prisons lose some rights when they are sent to prison, but religious freedom isn't one of them.
Attorney Diana Verm of the Becket Fund, which filed a friend of the court brief, tells AFN the court issued a ruling in two days, rather than the typical six to eight weeks.
"The court must have prepared something in advance, we think because Florida's arguments that they couldn't provide kosher meals to their Jewish prisoners were so poor," Verm explains.
Florida's advocates understood clearly the court rejected the cost issue, because it was only two-tenths of one percent of the budget.
"They realized in court, based on the judge's questions, that they didn't have a strong argument," says the attorney.
Especially when the Department of Justice pointed out that the prison system provided Halal meals to Muslim prisoners – which is a similar diet – special diets for diabetics, meals to meet other medical needs, and for vegans. So the court ruled that Jewish inmates' religious rights were violated.
"Prisoners lose many of their physical rights when they go to prison," Verm concludes, "but they don't lose their human dignity – and they don't lose their right to worship."