Court Revives Prisoner’s Suit Over Jewish Services

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit reinstated the constitutional claims of a Washington state prisoner who says he was denied Jewish material and services because he failed to prove that he’s Jewish.




     Dennis Florer claimed that Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim N.A., an organization hired to provide Jewish services to inmates, and its president, Gary Friedman, were the gatekeepers for all Jewish materials and services for the Washington Department of Corrections.
     Their input allegedly determined whether inmates like Florer would receive proper kosher meals, Torahs, Jewish calendars, consultations with rabbis and other requested items or services.
     Florer claims the congregation and Friedman only provided Jewish services to prisoners who had Jewish mothers or had been formally converted to Judaism.
     Because Florer failed to prove that he was actually Jewish, he said his requests for Jewish items and services were denied.
     He sued Congregation Shevuyim, Friedman and a Jewish outreach program called Jewish Prisoners Service International, alleging violations of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
     U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez dismissed the complaint, saying Florer failed to name a “state actor,” even though he offered evidence that the Department of Corrections deferred to Congregation in deciding which prisoners are Jewish and thus entitled to its services.
     The Seattle-based appellate panel reversed, ruling that Congregation “acted under the color of state law” in making the judgment call on who was Jewish enough.
     “Here, in the light most favorable to Florer, the evidence indicates that Florer could access Jewish religious materials and services only through the facility chaplain, who relied exclusively on Congregation’s determination that Florer was not Jewish,” Judge Ronald Gould wrote.
     “[A]lthough Congregation’s decision to limit Florer’s access to religious materials may have had a religious component, that characteristic does not alter that Congregation’s conduct was a direct delegation of the DOC’s constitutional duty to provide appropriate access to religious materials.”
     The court revived Florer’s claims and remanded.

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