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DOC violated religious rights in denying kosher meals

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A federal judge has found the Indiana Department of Correction was wrong to stop serving kosher meals to those whose religious practices required them to eat the specially prepared meals.

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson found this week the DOC violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying kosher meals to inmates who request them for religious reasons. Maston Willis filed a suit, which became a class action, against the commissioner of the DOC; Dr. Stephen Hall, the director of religious services for the DOC; and Chaplain Merle Hodges at the Miami Correction Facility.

Willis is an orthodox Jew and he and others who kept kosher were able to receive the more costly pre-packed kosher meals at lunch and dinner. Those requiring special diets were given diet cards. Breakfast wasn’t made with kosher ingredients or prepared by kosher standards, so Willis did not eat it. In an effort to reduce costs, the DOC instituted a policy that required those with diet cards to eat at least 75 percent of their special diet meals.

Since Willis did not eat breakfast, his kosher diet privileges were revoked for falling below the 75 percent threshold. Then, the DOC discontinued pre-packaged kosher meals and began offering vegan meals for those requesting the special diet, as the vegan meals didn’t cost any extra to prepare by the company contracted by the DOC.

Grievances filed by Willis were denied, and he filed this suit, Maston Willis, et al., v. Commissioner, Indiana Department of Correction, et al., No. 1:09-CV-815. Judge Magnus-Stinson ruled in favor of Willis and the class in granting summary judgment on their complaint that denying them kosher meals violated the RLUIPA. Keeping kosher constitutes religious exercise under the act and the DOC substantially burdened the plaintiffs’ religious exercise when it denied them kosher food.

The DOC argued it had a compelling government interest to keep costs down and that’s why it cut the kosher meals, but increasing costs alone are not a compelling government interest, wrote the judge. This would also contravene 7th Circuit Court of Appeals precedent as ruled in Koger v. Bryan, 523 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Circ. 2008). She also found serving vegan meals is not the least restrictive means of achieving the compelling government interest; the DOC didn’t show that reasonable alternatives don’t exist and never considered whether there were less expensive kosher venders or the costs of creating a kosher kitchen at a DOC facility.

Judge Magnus-Stinson also found in Willis’ favor on his individual claim for declaratory relief under RLUIPA. Willis’ First Amendment rights were violated because the DOC’s enforcement of the policy against him failed each prong of the Turner test in determining the extent of inmates’ First Amendment rights. Also, since a First Amendment violation was found, a RLUIPA violation also exists, the judge noted.

She granted summary judgment in favor of Hall in Willis’ nominal damages claim, finding Hall not liable for damages. Judge Magnus-Stinson granted summary judgment for Willis in his suit for nominal damages against Hodges because he didn’t dispute Willis’ assertion that he knowingly violated Wills’ First Amendment rights when he confiscated Willis’ meal card.

Judge Magnus-Stinson ordered a hearing on the scope of injunctive relief on Nov. 30 because neither party has presented cogent argument as to whether an injunction should be issued nor illustrated what the injunction would entail.

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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