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Monday, December 31, 2012

Orthodox Jewish inmate wins court victory against state that denied him free religious food

An Orthodox Jew who was jailed for murder has won the right to be served kosher meals in prison.

A federal appeals court ruled that Max Moussazadeh, who was sentenced in connection with a fatal shooting in Texas, U.S. in 1993, should not be denied free kosher meals because to do so would infringe upon his 'sincere religious beliefs'.

Moussazadeh, now 35, who initially sued in 2005 after the state denied his request for a kosher meal plan, had said at the time he feared he would be 'punished by God' for not practising his religion correctly.

A lower, district court dismissed the inmate's case and ruled that his commitment to a kosher diet was insincere, according to the Houston Chronicle.

That judgement has now been reversed by the ruling of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which said that the state of Texas was infringing upon the prisoner's beliefs by failing to provide him with food in keeping with his religion.

Moussazadeh's argument was based around the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act, which prevents the government from restricting the religious rights of an institutionalised person, the report said.

The inmate, who was jailed after acting as a lookout while three accomplices shot a man to death during a Houston robbery in 1993, was transferred to a facility in the Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon, Texas, in 2007, which had established a 'kosher kitchen' to cater to Jewish prisoners.

But he was then moved to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, which offers basic kosher products for inmates to purchase but does not provide free kosher meals.

Lawyers representing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had argued that Moussazadeh sometimes chose to queue for a regular meal while he was a prisoner at the Stringfellow Unit, even when he had the option for a kosher meal.

Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped to represent Moussazadeh in his legal battle, has described the decision as a 'great victory' for human rights and religious liberty.

'Even prisoners retain their human rights, and the state cannot sacrifice those rights on the altar of bureaucratic convenience,' Mr Goodrich said.

A kosher diet is based on Jewish teachings and forbids certain foods including pork, some seafood, and mixing of dairy and meat products.

In order to remain kosher, a meal must be prepared in containers that are untainted by non-kosher food.

The prison system in Texas provides inmates with a choice between pork-free, meat-free and regular trays at most units - none of which would be regarded as kosher.

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