Michigan Inmates Earn Right to Eat Kosher Meat and Cheesecake | Michigan News


By ED WHITE, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) – Michigan must serve kosher meat, dairy and cheesecake to prisoners observing the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, a federal appeals court said, dismissing arguments that a special menu would be too much expensive and disruptive.

Corrections generally offer a vegan meal for anyone with religious dietary needs. But the appeals court said it was a “substantial burden” on the rights of prisoners who said they needed meat and dairy instead to practice their Jewish faith.

In a 3-0 opinion this week, the appeals court upheld a ruling by U.S. District Judge Linda Parker. The court analyzed the case under federal law that protects the practice of religion in a confined setting.

Gerald Ackerman and Mark Shaykin sued after the state adopted a vegan religious meal in 2013 and said Jewish organizations could no longer send food on four public holidays.

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Inmates can purchase kosher meat and dairy products at the police station, but food cannot be brought into the dining room. Ackerman and Shaykin stated that they should eat the special food as a meal, not as a snack.

The prison service said providing meat to all Jewish prisoners during the holidays and the Sabbath would cost around $ 10,000 a year.

“The value of simply avoiding an annual expense of $ 10,000 here is not convincing. … MDOC’s annual food budget is $ 39 million, ”the appeals court said.

The state also argued that an exception to its religious meal policy would turn prison kitchens into a “religious accommodation buffet.” But the three-judge panel said the state had not properly developed that defense.

Ackerman and Shaykin believe they must eat kosher cheesecake on Shavuot, which is reminiscent of the ancient wheat harvest and the delivery of the Torah to the Jews.

The appeals court said the “cheesecake issue is trickier” than meat and milk, but upheld the trial judge’s findings.

Parker “came to the defensible conclusion that she should credit the testimony of the prisoners that they believe cheesecake is compulsory on Shavuot. That is all that is needed, ”said the court of appeal.

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