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Arkansas Prisoner Denied Kosher Diet Awarded $1,500

On August 25, 2006, the Director of the Arkansas Department of Corrections was ordered to pay state prisoner Michael Fegans $1,500 for violating his constitutional rights to a kosher diet.

Fegans is a devout member of the Assemblies of Yahweh, a religious group that adheres to certain grooming standards and to the Old Testament law of clean meats. As such, Fegans began requesting kosher food in 1997 but was refused until March 3, 2004. During this time he received only a ?pork free? diet.

In 2003 Fegans filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas alleging that the Department and its Director, Larry Norris, violated his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RULIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1 et. seq.

Following a bench trial, the district court dismissed Fegans? grooming standards claim but ruled in his favor on the religious diet claim. The court noted that it had previously held on December 19, 2002, in a separate case, that Arkansas prisoner Kelvin Ray Love was entitled to receive a modified kosher diet because of his religious beliefs.

The court thus reasoned that from December 19, 2002, until March 3, 2004, when the Department issued Administrative Directive 04-03 providing for kosher diets to prisoners, Director Norris had willfully violated Fegans right to kosher food. The court consequently entered judgment against Norris in his individual capacity and ordered him to pay Fegans $1,500 in damages.

It should be noted that based on the number of meals Fegans missed between December 19, 2002, and March 3, 2004, the $1,500 award amounts to an unpalatable $1.14 for each constitutional violation.

Fegans was represented by attorneys David O. Bowden and Steven R. Smith of The Bowden Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. See: Fegans v. Norris, USDC ED AR, Case No. 4:03CV00172. The judgment and ruling are available on the PLN website.

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Related legal case

Fegans v. Norris

The complaint and order are available in the brief bank.