Texas Convicted Murderer Wins Right to Kosher Meals in Prison

Yahoo Contributor Network

According to the UK Daily Mail, Max Moussazadeh, an Orthodox Jew and convicted murderer serving a 75-year sentence at the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, has won the right to be served free kosher meals thanks to a federal appeals court.

Moussazedeh sued in 2005

According to a story in the Texas Tribune, Moussazedeh, one of 29 Orthodox Jews in the Texas prison system, originally filed his suit in 2005, claiming that he was being denied his religious rights by being denied a kosher diet. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice transferred him to the Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon where a kosher kitchen had been set up, according to Jewish law, and a rabbi was available to conduct services.

Transferred to the Stiles Unit

The Texas Tribune goes on to state that Moussazedeh was transferred to the higher security Stiles Unit after being caught with an unspecified "prohibited substance" on three occasions. The Stiles Unit did not offer free kosher meals but allowed Moussazedeh to purchase them. He then renewed his lawsuit in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which provided him with legal counsel.

Moussazadeh lost in a lower court

Moussazadeh and his lawyers argued that the TDCJ was in violation of the Religious Land Use and the Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 which prohibits a state of local government from imposing an undue burden on religious exercise, according to the Texas Tribune. The state argued that Moussazadeh had not exhausted administrative remedies before going to court. A lower court had decided that the plaintiff was "insincere" in that he occasionally would go through the regular food line at the prison cafeteria. The American Jewish Committee then filed an amicus brief that pointed out that even the most religious people will "backslide" and that such does not eliminate their religious rights.

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rules for Moussazadeh

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Moussazadeh, throwing out the objections raised on the issues of administrative exhaustion and sincerity.

Kosher diet

According to Jewfaq.org, a kosher diet avoids the consumption of pork, shellfish, and certain other animals. Permitted food must be derived from animals that are killed in accordance to Jewish law, with the blood drained or boiled out. Milk and meat cannot be mixed in the same dish. Fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bug infestation. Certain parts of kosher animals are not permitted for consumption. The Beckett Fund points out that before the Moussazadeh lawsuit, Texas was one of the only state prison systems that did not provide Jewish prisoners kosher food free of charge.

Texas resident Mark Whittington writes about state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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