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Vermont DOC Settles Religious Practice Denial Suit For $25,000

The Vermont Department of Corrections (VDOC) settled a religious discrimination lawsuit brought by a former prisoner claiming he had been denied traditional food for Jewish holidays that had been donated by an outside philanthropic organization.

Gordon Bock, 53, was incarcerated in VDOC between October 2004 and May 2005 for domestic abuse charges. During that period, he tried to practice his Jewish faith by lighting candles for the eight days of Hanukkah and by gaining sacramental food donations from Aleph Institute, a Florida-based group that supports needy Jews in prisons, mental institutions, and the military. VDOC denied candles, permitting only an electric candelabra (Menorah). Additionally, VDOC blocked his receipt of all religious food donations, including Kosher for Passover food that Bock needed to properly observe that religious event.

After exhausting administrative remedies, Bock sued VDOC under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 2000bb, alleging violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of religious practice. He sought damages as well as injunctive relief against further denials of or limitations on his religious practice in VDOC. In November 2007, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jerome Niedermeier rejected dismissal of the case when he found that Bock “ha[d] produced enough evidence to make a reasonable inference of malice.” On March 21, 2008, Bock and VDOC stipulated to a dismissal of the suit upon payment of $25,000. The stipulation added that “Aleph Institute is an appropriate supplier of kosher food and Jewish religious articles for Jewish inmates in Department facilities pursuant to the Department’s policies on Religious Observances.”

Earlier, VDOC had drafted new regulations on religious observances that “had been well received” by prisoners, staff and the faith communities. VDOC denied that these changes were the result of Bock’s suit. Vermont Assistant Attorney General Kurt Kuehl stated only that settlement was preferable to “the uncertainties and expenses inherent in a jury trial.”

Bock has still has two unrelated suits pending against VDOC. Bock’ was represented by Montgomery attorney Barry Kade. See: Bock v. Gold, U.S.D.C. (D. VT) No. 1:05-CV-151. The complaint and settlement in this case are posted on PLN’s website.

Other source: Associated Press

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Related legal case

Bock v. Gold