A Jewish prisoner who has been refused a Kosher diet is getting legal help to redress his grievance from a Muslim civil liberties group, a Jewish newspaper reports.
The prisoner, Brandon Resch, has been imprisoned at the Macomb County Jail in Michigan since November 2017, after he was transferred there from a jail in another county where he was receiving a kosher diet, according to a July 8 report in The Jewish News.
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), the state chapter of a nationwide advocacy group for Muslims in the United States, announced in court filings July 6 it would be representing Resch in a lawsuit in which he is the plaintiff, the newspaper reported. The case is likely to go to trial by the end of this year.
According to the court filings, Resch requested a kosher diet at Macomb County Jail after he was transferred to the facility. An interview with the jail’s chaplain followed, but Resch was evidently denied a kosher diet because he failed to write to a rabbi and obtain a “letter of good standing,” proving he is a member of the Jewish faith.
“Under no circumstances do a person’s religious rights depend on whether or not they are a member in good standing of a religious organization,” the CAIR-MI court filing stated according to the news report. “Macomb County’s policy of requiring an individual housed in its jail to contact a religious leader—at their own expense and when they may not have access to phone numbers and addresses—to obtain a letter of ‘good standing’ prior to being afforded a religious diet places an undue burden on the individual’s religious practice in violation of the Constitution and the law.”
“The right to maintain a religious diet is of dear importance to the Muslim community,” CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy V. Doukoure said. “On this issue, the Muslim and Jewish communities are closely aligned,” she added, referring to dietary restrictions that exist in both faiths. The law, Doukoure said, “has never required anybody to get the approval of someone else that this is your sincerely held religious belief—it is only up to the individual.”
Rabbi Boruch Zelouf, a Michigan advocate for the Aleph Institute, a nonprofit organization that assists Jewish prisoners, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Aleph Institute was “happy” CAIR-MI was advocating for Resch. “No inmate of any religion should ever be denied the right to a religious diet,” he said.
The Jewish News quoted Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee (JCRC/AJC) as saying that the organization had not been contacted by either Resch or CAIR, but that “we would do our utmost to help” if approached.
“The JCRC/AJC appreciates anyone who works with prisoners to assert their rights and certainly when it comes to Jewish rituals and kosher food,” Lopatin said. “Criminal justice reform is one of our key advocacy issues, and the ability of prisoners to practice their religion is a basic right that all prisoners and people everywhere deserve.”
This past January in Detroit, a federal judge granted a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections by kosher-observant prisoners. The settlement requires the department to provide inmates certified kosher meals and chaplains might be asked to confirm prisoners’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Daniel Manville, a professor at the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University who led the class-action lawsuit and is working to enforce the settlement, told The Jewish News that Resch would not benefit from the court ruling, however, because Macomb County Jail is not run by the Michigan Department of Corrections.
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