A Texas prison inmate should be served free kosher meals, a federal appeals court ruled, overturning a lower court decision that said his commitment to a kosher diet was insincere.
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 U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled earlier this month. The ruling of the three-judge panel was 2-1.
After Moussazadeh filed a 2005 federal lawsuit 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 and transferred Moussazadeh and the other prisoners requesting a kosher diet 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 he had gone through the general food line on occasion and had purchased food without kosher supervision at the commissary.
“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.’[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?’ Though Moussazadeh may have erred in his food purchases and strayed from the path of perfect adherence, that alone does not eviscerate his claim of sincerity,” Judge Jerry Smith said, writing for the majority, according to Courthouse News.