MIAMI -- Jewish inmates who follow strict religious diets at state prisons are no longer provided meals in line with their beliefs. Muslims must now eat vegan food to satisfy their religious requirements.
The Corrections Department has ended the Jewish Dietary Accommodation Program, which provided kosher meals to not only Jews, but to Muslims as well, because the state prison system does not offer halal food. Cost - and fairness - were cited as factors.
"We have 100 faiths represented by DOC inmates, so it would be impossible to satisfy everyone's preferences and unfair to do it for one group and not another," agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said. "We just have to look at what our mission is and what's best for our overall department and the overall population of inmates in our system instead of a smaller group."
The department has suspended use of pork products in an attempt to appease religious adherents and will continue to serve vegetarian and vegan meals. It said many Jews and Muslims could choose the vegan option, which is free of any animal products, to adhere to their faiths.
But for the strict followers of kosher and halal diets, it is far from ideal.
Rabbi Jack Romberg of Temple Israel in Tallahassee, who was a member of a group that reviewed religious dietary accommodations in prisons, noted that unless the vegan food is prepared separately from other meals, it would not satisfy kosher law. Ahmed Bedier of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Tampa said vegan food would meet the religious requirements of those who follow a halal diet, but would cause undue hardship.
"Either you have a choice of violating your own religion beliefs or you're coerced to only eat vegan," Bedier said. "That's probably not a reasonable accommodation."