Houston, TX – Max Moussazadeh, 35, a prisoner who sued the state of Texas for refusing to provide him with free kosher food while incarcerated, will now receive kosher meals following a ruling by the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his 2005 complaint, Moussazadeh wrote, “I feel that I am going against my beliefs and that I will be punished by God for not practicing my religion correctly.” Moussazadeh sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, which precludes the government from “restricting religious rights of an institutionalized person.” Moussazadeh was imprisoned for acting as a lookout in a 1993 shooting death of a man during a robbery in Houston.
Moussazadeh was originally serving his time at the Stringfellow Unit prison facility which has a kosher kitchen, but owing to disciplinary violations, he was later transferred to the Stiles Unit where only basic kosher items are available for purchase.
The Houston Chronicle reports (http://bit.ly/UEcBHH) that Moussazadeh’s case was initially dismissed by the district court after attorneys for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice argued that Moussazadeh was insincere in his claim of being a devout Orthodox Jew, and contended that Moussazadeh did not always adhere to a kosher diet at the Stringfellow Unit where kosher meals were readily available.
In its December 21 ruling, the Court of Appeals found that the lower court erred in dismissing the case and that Texas infringed on Moussazadeh’s genuine beliefs as an Orthodox Jew by failing to provide him with free kosher meals.
In addition to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are 35 prison systems throughout the United States which offer free kosher food to Jewish inmates. In Texas, inmates are given the option of pork-free, meat-free, and regular diet meals, but it was not until 2007, that the state instituted a kosher kitchen for observant Jewish prisoners at the Stringfellow Unit.