Justice Department Wins Its Suit Seeking Religious Diets for Florida Prisoners
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida today granted the Justice Department’s motion for summary judgment in United States v. Florida Department of Corrections, holding that the Department of Corrections’ failure to provide a kosher diet violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). Consuming a kosher diet is central to the religious observance of hundreds of Florida prisoners. For years, the Department of Corrections’ policy had forced these prisoners to violate their core beliefs on a daily basis by eating non-kosher meals.
“Religious freedom is a cornerstone of our pluralistic society,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “State and local correctional facilities incarcerate individuals from a wide variety of faith groups and religious backgrounds. Accommodating these prisoners’ religious exercise is a core tenet of effective prison management. It reduces tension and disciplinary incidents, fosters learning and self-reflection and ultimately eases prisoners’ transition back into mainstream society.”
Congress enacted RLUIPA unanimously, recognizing that religion plays an indispensable role in the management of correctional facilities and the rehabilitation of prisoners. To achieve Congress’ goal of protecting prisoners’ religious liberty, RLUIPA prohibits policies that substantially burden prisoners’ religious exercise unless those policies are the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. The act allows the Justice Department to remedy violations through civil litigation. The Justice Department has previously used RLUIPA to secure prisoners’ access religious texts, wear religiously significant clothing, consume religious diets and observe their faith by maintaining beards or long hair.
The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. filed suit against the Florida Department of Corrections in 2012 after a 15-month investigation found that the failure to offer a kosher diet violated RLUIPA. The case number is 2012-cv-22958 (S.D. Fla).
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.