JTA — A Texas prison inmate should be served free kosher meals, a US appeals court ruled, overturning a lower court decision.
Max Moussazadeh, 35, who is serving a 75-year sentence for a 1993 murder, has a sincere desire to keep kosher, and his religious rights were infringed upon, the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled earlier this month. The 2-1 ruling by the appeals court panel rejected a decision by a US District Court.
After Moussazadeh filed a federal lawsuit in 2005 complaining that the prison system did not provide kosher food, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice started a kosher food program at one of its prisons. Moussazadeh and the other prisoners requesting a kosher diet were transferred there.
But Moussazadeh was transferred later to a high-security prison that does not provide free kosher meals, though he can purchase kosher products from the commissary.
The prison system argued that his commitment to a kosher diet was insincere because Moussazadeh had gone through the general food line at the commissary on occasion and had purchased food without kosher supervision.
“A finding of sincerity does not require perfect adherence to beliefs expressed by the inmate, and even the most sincere practitioner may stray from time to time,” Judge Jerry Smith wrote for the majority, according to Courthouse News. “[A] sincere religious believer doesn’t forfeit his religious rights merely because he is not scrupulous in his observance; for where would religion be without its backsliders, penitents, and prodigal sons?”