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Florida Loses Bid to Move Prison Kosher Meal Case

MIAMI (CN) - A Justice Department complaint that says Florida illegally deprives Jewish prisoners of kosher meals will remain at its current venue, a federal judge ruled.

Though the state offered kosher options to prisoners in the past, the government says Florida's current meal policy violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The act protects prisoners' freedom to worship, which the government claims Florida shirks through a meal policy that "is not necessary to achieve any compelling state interest."

The issue allegedly arose when the Florida Department of Corrections eliminated its kosher food program in August 2007.

A pilot kosher program that began in 2010 feeds a dozen prisoners at a single Florida facility, the government says. Under the old policy, an average of 250 prisoners enrolled for kosher meals across the state, according to the complaint.

The government sued the Florida Department of Corrections and its secretary Kenneth Tucker for declaratory and injunctive relief in the Southern District of Florida.

Tucker moved to have the case dismissed or transferred to the court in the Northern District of Florida.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz denied the motion on December 19.

"The events giving rise to the United States' claim are the denials of kosher meals to prisoners who request them," Seitz wrote in a nine-page order. "As set out in the complaint, several prisoners in the Southern District of Florida have been denied kosher meals. Thus, harm has occurred in the Southern District of Florida. While defendants assert that the events giving rise to the claim occurred in Tallahassee, Florida, where the policy decision not to provide kosher meals was made, the policy decision alone does not give rise to the claim; a claim only exists if someone has been harmed by the policy decision. Here, harm has clearly occurred in the Southern District of Florida."

Seitz gave the defendants until Dec. 31, 2012 to file their answers.

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