A Religious Victory That Was Criminal: A Ten Commandments’ Tale

I have descended to rescue them from the hand[s] of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land, to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey

exodus 3:8

individuals’, religions’ and religious institutions’ first amendment rights have been subjected to unprecedented interference by government agencies. many aggrieved have sought judicial relief and prevailed. each win is valuable: even if it comes from michigan inmates.

a brief digression…i frequently attend functions at my alma mater, a jesuit institution. these catered functions employ outside vendors. a few years ago, at one event, the food tables included cards identifying the food. the cards, as far as limitation, only identified vegan and gluten free fare.

those id cards were a sign of things to come. it marked the sad reality that even religious institutions were dismissive of actual religious dietary restrictions. veganism was more important. it was arguably more important that traditional religious practice.

my impression has become a reality in the michigan prison system. jewish inmates, rather than receiving kosher food, received a “one size fits all” vegan meal option. while arguably kosher, vegan food avoids animal based products. thus, kosher observance in prison would deprive one of having items such as cheese, milk, and meat.

the inmates fought the food requirement. the matter was litigated. at trial, the inmates won themselves kosher meals and cheesecake on the holiday of shavuot. the decision was appealed to the sixth circuit court, and it was unanimously decided that prison system must accommodate the sincerely held beliefs of jewish inmates under the religious land use and institutionalized persons act, or RLUIPA.

in essence, inmates were to be afforded to be provided animal based food products.

the evidence presented, however, did not include perhaps the slam dunk argument. exodus’ pronouncement that god was to take the jewish people to a land flowing of milk and honey perhaps explains it all. god promised to take them to a land where they would eat “unvegan” food: milk and honey. additionally, honey’s employment in religious practice is significant. the jewish new year is celebrated by eating apples with honey to symbolize the notion of a sweet new year.

this ruling perhaps will help muslims who practice halal to escape the overreaching “one size” fits all vegan diet.

in sum, society’s favoritism of food trends and diets over religious dietary restrictions is a troubling sign of the lack of respect for religion. thus, first amendment rights must be asserted whenever possible.

be well!!

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a vegan meal would offer no dairy or meat to those inmates. the torah is quite clear. god, when instructing moses to the promised land, had no intention to sending them to a “vegan” restaurant. milk and honey are both un”vegan.”

at trial, the inmates won themselves kosher meals and cheesecake on the holiday of shavuot. it was appealed to the sixth circuit court, and it was unanimously decided that MDOC must accommodate the sincerely held beliefs of Jewish inmates under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

while some may find inmate’s rights distasteful, their first amendment rights are important in that they raise awareness of respect for religious practices.

hopefully, those in michigan inmates who are religiously dietary observant will not be restricted to a vegan diet.

a vegan meal would offer no dairy or meat to those inmates. the torah is quite clear. god, when instructing moses to the promised land, had no intention to sending them to a “vegan” restaurant. milk and honey are both un”vegan.”

be well!!

An appeals panel said the availability of kosher snacks and dairy products from a commissary is insufficient to satisfy federal standards for Jewish inmates that require specific meals on the Sabbath and other holidays.KEVIN KOENINGER / October 12, 2021

(Pixabay via Courthouse News)

CINCINNATI (CN) — The Michigan Department of Corrections cannot use a one-size-fits-all vegan meal option for inmates with religious dietary needs and instead must provide Jewish inmates with kosher meals and specific dairy products, the Sixth Circuit ruled Tuesday.

The decision upheld a lower court ruling in favor of the prisoners, who filed a class action in 2013 and prevailed on their claims that snacks provided by a prison commissary did not meet Jewish dietary requirements.

The MDOC initially contested the sincerity of the beliefs held by lead plaintiffs Gerald Ackerman and Mark Shaykin, but after a bench trial a federal judge granted them relief and ordered the prison system to provide kosher meals and cheesecake on the holiday of Shavuot.

The MDOC appealed to the Sixth Circuit and the case was argued before a three-judge panel in April.

Tuesday’s decision was unanimous, and held the MDOC must accommodate the sincerely held beliefs of Jewish inmates under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

U.S. Circuit Judge John Nalbandian, a Donald Trump appointee, wrote the court’s opinion and began by addressing the sincerity concerns voiced by the State of Michigan.

“Both [Ackerman and Shaykin] were raised eating kosher diets in Jewish households that included meat and dairy,” Nalbandian said. “[Ackerman] said that failing to properly celebrate with these foods ‘diminishes … the fullness’ and ‘heartfelt meaning’ of holiday celebrations.”ADVERTISEMENThttps://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/ads?client=ca-pub-2396336110094690&output=html&h=280&slotname=1865055633&adk=4043928500&adf=2266899701&pi=t.ma~as.1865055633&w=940&fwrn=4&fwrnh=100&lmt=1634150202&rafmt=1&psa=1&format=940×280&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.courthousenews.com%2Fmichigan-prisons-ordered-to-provide-kosher-meals-to-jewish-inmates%2F&flash=0&fwr=0&fwrattr=true&rpe=1&resp_fmts=3&wgl=1&uach=WyJXaW5kb3dzIiwiNi4zLjAiLCJ4ODYiLCIiLCI5NC4wLjQ2MDYuODEiLFtdLG51bGwsbnVsbCwiNjQiXQ..&tt_state=W3siaXNzdWVyT3JpZ2luIjoiaHR0cHM6Ly9hdHRlc3RhdGlvbi5hbmRyb2lkLmNvbSIsInN0YXRlIjo3fV0.&dt=1634150202077&bpp=4&bdt=2052&idt=154&shv=r20211011&mjsv=m202110050101&ptt=9&saldr=aa&abxe=1&cookie=ID%3D98b6f6f4061ff75f-228e2fb74fca0069%3AT%3D1631885831%3ART%3D1631885831%3AS%3DALNI_MYdQ5noTEsgGb9rzcizaxV-53uxUg&prev_fmts=0x0%2C940x90&nras=1&correlator=2426636525446&frm=20&pv=1&ga_vid=105198847.1631885830&ga_sid=1634150202&ga_hid=2078584347&ga_fc=0&u_tz=-420&u_his=4&u_h=900&u_w=1600&u_ah=860&u_aw=1600&u_cd=24&u_sd=1&adx=322&ady=1586&biw=1583&bih=789&scr_x=0&scr_y=0&eid=21066431%2C31062938%2C44748553%2C21067496&oid=2&pvsid=226545200388213&pem=182&ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.algemeiner.com%2F&eae=0&fc=1920&brdim=0%2C0%2C0%2C0%2C1600%2C0%2C1600%2C860%2C1600%2C789&vis=1&rsz=%7C%7CeEbr%7C&abl=CS&pfx=0&fu=128&bc=31&ifi=3&uci=a!3&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=lk8Kc8p1am&p=https%3A//www.courthousenews.com&dtd=159

Testimony before the trial court also included an affidavit from a rabbi about the importance of kosher meat and dairy products, and although such food is available from the commissary, the state’s argument held little weight with the appeals court.

“Commissary purchases of meat wouldn’t suffice because the Code of Jewish Law requires ‘meat during the meal,’ not as snacks or post-meal supplements,” Nalbandian said.

He then moved to the prisoners’ claim they require cheesecake for the Shavuot holiday, which he admitted was “trickier” than the meat and dairy issue.

Ackerman had testified before the trial court that a “glass of milk” would likely suffice for the holiday’s dietary requirement, but the appeals court decided that because evidence in the record indicated it had been provided previously to inmates by a Jewish organization, it would leave the lower court’s determination undisturbed.

The court then analyzed the burden imposed on the prisoners’ exercise of their religious beliefs under RLUIPA, and although it admitted the commissary argument advanced by the state held “some appeal,” the outright ban on meat and dairy products at mealtime was fatal to the MDOC’s case.

“Even if a prison’s choice to minimize burdens by allowing prisoners to earn wages and buy commissary items might in some case take the wind out of a prisoner’s claim,” the ruling states, “that’s not what we have here. Even if these prisoners spent every last penny on beef sticks and dry milk, prison policy would still bar their religious exercise of eating those items as part of their meals.”

The MDOC argued an expected annual cost of over $10,000 to satisfy the Jewish inmates’ dietary needs gave it a legitimate reason to deny any accommodations, but the panel was nonplussed.

Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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