Lawsuit Seeks Kosher Diet for Jewish Prisoners

BOISE, IDAHO – The ACLU of Idaho and Boise civil rights law firm Ferguson Durham PLLC have filed a class action lawsuit seeking a kosher diet for Jewish prisoners incarcerated in Idaho. The lawsuit comes after the ACLU’s unsuccessful efforts to obtain religious accommodations for Jewish prisoners without the need for litigation. Filed in federal court in Idaho, the case asks for a ruling, called a preliminary injunction, requiring the Idaho Department of Correction to provide kosher meals immediately.

“We hear a lot about religious freedom in Idaho,” said ACLU of Idaho Legal Director Richard Eppink. “Religious freedom is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, whether you are incarcerated or not. Instead of upholding the religious freedoms of all in Idaho, the State is forcing Jewish prisoners to defile themselves every time they eat, compelling them to choose between starvation and violating their core religious beliefs.”

The class action is brought by four Jewish prisoners incarcerated by IDOC. The prisoners represent a variety of Jewish practice, ranging from Orthodox to Reform, but all need kosher food to follow the basic dietary requirements of their religion. The case is filed just weeks after the end of Passover, during which two of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit starved on only fruit and matzo because of IDOC’s refusal to provide meals that were kosher for Passover.

“Religion is a powerful motivator towards an improved life, and it is especially important to many prisoners in their path to rehabilitation,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Craig Durham of Ferguson Durham, PLLC, co-counsel with the ACLU of Idaho in the new case. “The State of Idaho’s religious discrimination is not just unconstitutional, but counterproductive to the goal of corrections.”

The class action lawsuit claims that IDOC has violated the prisoners’ constitutional rights to free exercise of religion and to equal protection, pointing out that IDOC provides meals that meet the dietary requirements of all but the Jewish religion. The lawsuit also claims that the State is violating federal and Idaho state laws that liberally protect religious freedom.