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Indiana Prisoner Entitled to Kosher Meals Under RLUIPA

The Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC) must provide a kosher diet to a Muslim prisoner who said he believes “Islam prohibits rejecting food that Allah has given to humans – including certain types of animal meat.”

Prisoner Roman Lee Jones, who was housed at the Indiana State Prison (ISP), filed a complaint under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc, arguing the IDOC’s refusal to let him receive a halal diet that includes meat imposed a substantial burden on the exercise of his religious faith.

“The Qur’an, the Holy Text of Islam, teaches that certain foods, such as pork and alcohol, are always haram (which means ‘forbidden’) and as such may never be consumed by Muslims,” the district court wrote. “Other foods, such as meat from cows, veal, lamb, sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks, are deemed to be halal if they are slaughtered in the manner prescribed by Islamic law and are not contaminated by food that is haram.”

Following a December 2010 court order, the IDOC began providing prepackaged lunches and dinners that were designated kosher to all prisoners who requested them based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The meals often contained kosher meat. Prison officials then set up kosher kitchens at five facilities, including ISP. The meals prepared at those kitchens are vegan and do not include any meat, while prisoners at facilities without kosher kitchens receive prepackaged meals that contain fish or kosher meat.

Of the 32,000 IDOC prisoners on February 27, 2017, there were 186 who received kosher meals, including 16 at facilities without kosher kitchens.

Jones acknowledged that not all Muslims share his belief that they must have a diet that does not exclude meat. The district court said that under RLUIPA, the question is not whether Jones’ belief conforms to Islamic orthodox but whether “the relevant exercise of religion is grounded in a sincerely held religious belief.” The court held the vegetarian kosher diet substantially burdened Jones’ practice of religion.

It then found the IDOC had failed to present a compelling governmental interest in denying Jones a kosher diet that included meat. “Further, as Jones acknowledged that a kosher diet tray with kosher meat is acceptable – though not preferable – the provision of the pre-packaged kosher meal tray already available at those facilities without kosher kitchens will be minimally burdensome” to prison officials.

On August 8, 2017, following a consolidated preliminary injunction hearing and trial on the merits, the district court granted declaratory and injunctive relief to Jones. See: Jones v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 1:16-cv-02887-WTL-MJD.

The IDOC filed an appeal with the Seventh Circuit in September 2017, which remains pending. Jones is represented by attorneys Kenneth J. Falk and Jan P. Mensz with the ACLU of Indiana. 


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Related legal case

Jones v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction