Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Montana Women's Prison inmate sues over lack of kosher food
A Montana Women's Prison inmate is suing state corrections officials, claiming they are not providing her kosher foods in violation of her right to religious freedom.
In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Billings, Shelley Tischler, an inmate, said she is Jewish and practices her faith by eating kosher meals. Prison officials, she alleges, are denying her kosher food along with subjecting her to slurs about her Jewish faith from staff and inmates.
The suit names as defendants the Montana Department of Corrections; the Montana Women's Prison; Jo Acton, warden; Bob Paul and Sue Orand, deputy wardens; and three others.
Tischler, 57, was sentenced in 2005 to 20 years in prison for negligent homicide and criminal endangerment in Ravalli County, records said.
Tischler has spent most of her time at the women's prison in Billings but also has been treated at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. She is currently at Warm Springs.
There have been times while at the Women's Prison that Tischler was able to buy her own kosher foods for observance of Jewish holy days, the complaint said.
But, when transferred to the state hospital from September 2009 until March 2010, officers and administrators denied Tischler the ability to have or order kosher food, saying that “this accommodation is not occurring at other DOC facilities,” the suit said.
The DOC's reasoning shows that the defendants “have knowingly, willfully and maliciously withheld basic religious accommodations,” the complaint continued.
At one point, officials said that foods could be prepared in a “kosher manner” at the Women's Prison, but Tischler claims that alternative was not acceptable.
Kosher food refers to the preparation and consumption of food in accordance with Jewish laws.
Tischler believes “a kosher diet conforms to the divine will of God as expressed in the Torah which teaches that the slightest morsel of forbidden food taints not only the body, but the soul itself,” the complaint said.
Grievances that Tischler has filed about kosher food have been denied, the suit said, and Tischler has been subjected to slurs about her faith from staff and inmates. Prison administrators have done nothing to stop or discourage the slurs, the suit alleged.
Tischler is seeking a jury trial, punitive damages and an injunction requiring the defendants to provide her and other Jewish inmates with kosher foods, at a minmum, on holy holidays and more frequently if wanted.
Tischler's attorney is Kevin E. Vainio, of Butte.
The case is assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby.