LAS VEGAS (CN) – The Nevada Department of Correction is violating prisoners’ freedoms by adopting a new policy to stop providing kosher meals, an Orthodox Jewish inmate claims in a federal class action.
Lead plaintiff Howard Ackerman says he is a prisoner at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City and is “commanded to obey the laws of kashrut and to keep kosher in his diet.” The laws of kashrut are “commanded by God and are explicitly set out in the text of the Torah … in both Leviticus and Deuteronomy,” according to Ackerman’s nine-page complaint.
Nevada has provided all approved Jewish inmates with kosher meals since one inmate sued in 2002. The kosher meals came pre-packaged and were delivered to desiring prisoners as they moved through the meal line, the lawsuit states.
Though Ackerman was approved for a kosher diet as an observant Orthodox Jew, he says the corrections department abruptly decided to discontinue the kosher fare. The change to “common fare” for all prisoners “imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of his religion in that it renders his religious exercise effectively impracticable,” according to the complaint.
Ackerman says he is “being forced to go without food or to modify his behavior, eat non-kosher foods, and violate his beliefs.”
Ackerman says the “common fare” diet is not kosher, in that it is prepared “on the same cooking surfaces and in the same pots and pants as are used for preparing meat or in which meat and milk have been mixed.”
He complains of certain “common fare” meals containing non-kosher meats, and that “common fare” silverware and serving trays also aren’t kosher because they were “used in earlier meals including non-kosher foods or combination of food (e.g. meat and milk) that violate the rules of kashrut.” (Parentheses in original.)
“There are limited kosher foods available through commissary and Mr. Ackerman does not have the financial ability to feed himself through the foods,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, these foods are not necessarily healthy if eaten to the exclusion of all others.”
Ackerman sued the Nevada Department of Correction, acting director James Cox, Gov. Brian Sandoval, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Each of the individual defendants make up the Board of State Prison Commissioners responsible for the oversight of the Department of Correction.
Ackerman seeks an order restoring kosher diets and a declaration that their termination violates his and other inmates’ religious freedoms.
He is represented by Jacob Hafter.