Federal Court Order Requires New Kosher Diet at All IDOC Facilities

BOISE, IDAHO – A federal judge has entered an order requiring the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC) to provide a new Kosher diet to all Idaho prisoners. The order is the result of a settlement agreement reached in a religious freedom lawsuit filed earlier this year by the ACLU of Idaho and Boise civil rights law firm Ferguson Durham PLLC. Under the settlement agreement, which a federal court will supervise to ensure proper implementation, IDOC must implement a Kosher diet program available to all prisoners in Idaho prisons by November 1, 2017. A group of four Jewish prisoners brought the lawsuit earlier this year.

“The spirit demands that we eat Kosher,” the prisoners said in a joint statement. “It’s been an uphill battle, but we’re glad that we will finally be able to follow our religious tenets without having to go hungry anymore. An injury to one Jew is an injury to the whole Jewish community.”

Judge Candy Wagahoff Dale, one of Idaho’s federal magistrate judges, signed an order last week approving the settlement. Judge Dale will supervise the settlement agreement to enforce its requirements. The settlement agreement requires IDOC to provide a food certified by reliable Kosher certification agencies, served in pre-packaged, sealed servings to prevent contamination.

“These prisoners exemplify the courage and determination that it takes to enforce constitutional rights,” the ACLU of Idaho’s Executive Director Leo Morales said. “The State, including its prison officials, cannot prefer one religion over any other and this case reaffirms the basic constitutional principle of religious liberty. Jewish prisoners will now have access to nutritious meals that meet their religious needs, in the same manner in which other prisoners would have based on their religious needs.”

The four Jewish prisoners who brought the lawsuit 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 was filed this year 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.

"For years Jewish inmates in Idaho prisons have had to choose between going hungry or violating the tenets of their faith,” said Craig Durham, of Ferguson Durham PLLC.  “It is because the prisoners in this cased decided to take a stand for equal justice under the law that the Idaho Department of Correction has changed its longstanding practice of denying Kosher meals to the observant."

The order and settlement agreement do not conclude the ongoing lawsuit. The federal court will now focus on what compensation is due to the Jewish prisoners for the years they were forced to defile themselves by eating religiously prohibited food.