Despite Florida's recent change of policy, a federal appeals court Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit filed by a Jewish prison inmate who claimed his rights were violated by the state Department of Corrections' previous refusal to serve kosher meals.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a lower federal judge to reconsider the lawsuit filed in 2010 by Bruce Rich, an Orthodox Jew who is serving a life sentence at Union Correctional Institution. The judge previously dismissed the lawsuit at the state's request, citing lack of evidence.
Florida announced earlier this year it would resume offering kosher meals statewide by September to prisoners who qualify. The appeals judges, however, determined that Rich deserved a new hearing on his lawsuit despite the policy change.
"There is nothing to suggest that Florida will not simply end the new kosher meal program at some point in the future, just as it did in 2007," they wrote. The judges also noted that the policy was changed just two weeks before oral arguments were held in Rich's appeal and initially affected only his prison.
The ruling comes as a federal judge in Miami is considering a similar lawsuit filed by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, which contends that the new prisons diet program should be overseen by court order. U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz has scheduled a June 4 hearing in that case.
State officials "continue to argue that they may deny a kosher diet to prisoners at any time," the federal lawyers wrote.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Curt Anderson is covering the kosher meal dispute in Florida jails. Here's the latest twist and turn from the 11th Circuit: