TRUCKEE, Calif. — Margarito Jesus Garcia is a prison inmate housed at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., recently moved to Ironwood Prison in Blythe. Garcia has been practicing the Messianic Judaism religion for the past two years.As such, he filed an application to participate in Mule Creek’s Jewish Kosher Diet Program, specifically stating, “According to the Torah, I am not allowed to eat meat with blood in it, and I am not allowed to eat foods that are mixed with unclean food.”Mule Creek’s Jewish Chaplin Rabbi Korik denied the application because Garcia does not practice Judaism. The difference between the Messianic Jewish faith and Judaism was not explained in the court case.Jewish Kosher Diet ProgramAfter being denied the right to eat a kosher diet (his Spanish name probably played a factor), Garcia sued under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (Religious Act). Interesting how those two areas of interest got combined.The trial court ruled against Garcia writing that he was not compliant with traditional Judaism, for which the kosher program was established.Kosher InformationI learned something about kosher food from the case: “The kosher food laws are given in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Only meat from kosher animals is permitted. Only those that chew the cud (my Dad used to say “let’s chew the cud”) and have divided hooves (e.g., cows, goats, sheep, etc.). Kosher fowl are primarily those which are not birds of prey (e.g., chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys). Kosher meat must be slaughtered in such a way as to allow the blood to be entirely drained off. Meat which contains blood is not kosher. Kosher seafood are from fish that have scales and fins. All other seafood is non-kosher (e.g., lobster, crab, and all shell fish). All vegetables and fruit are Kosher.”Also, while the Mule Creek food cost per inmate is $2.90 a day for regular meals (apparently not gourmet), a kosher meal is approximately $7.97 per inmate per day. At Mule Creek kosher meals are prepared in a separate kitchen. Salads must be kosher-certified using procedures specified by a rabbi including separate pans, utensils and a special designated area. Unlike Mule Creek, most prisons do not have a special kosher kitchen, due in part to budgetary constraints.Kosher ContrabandThe court case noted that kosher food is much desired by non-Jewish inmates because it is perceived as better tasting and of higher quality. The kosher program offers honey, and whole, uncut fruits and vegetables. Jewish kosher meals are frequently stolen to be consumed, bartered or sold as contraband.And finally, a tell-tale quote from one of the Mule Creek staff: “This problem would be greatly exacerbated if the kosher meal program was expanded to include other non-Jewish inmates.” Where have I heard that before, “the Jewish problem.”Religious ActThe Religious Act of 2000 provides in part: “No government shall impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in or confined in an institution ... unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden on that person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”RulingThe Court of Appeal noted that the Mule Creek folks made no attempt to challenge the sincerity of Garcia’s religious beliefs or his claim that maintaining a kosher diet is part of his religious belief. Mule Creek has in place a kosher diet program and has not established a compelling interest in restricting that program to traditional Jews. As such, Garcia’s rights were violated under the Religious Act of 2000. He gets to eat kosher. Fortunately Ironwood Prison has a kosher program.Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the firm’s website www.portersimon.com.
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