NE: JUDGE ORDERS PRISON TO MEET RELIGIOUS DIET NEEDS
Tecumseh State Correctional Institution officials and a Muslim inmate are attempting to revise food service at the prison so the inmate can have access to kosher foods.
U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon ordered the revision after the inmate, Mohamed El-Tabech, sued corrections officials under the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act.
The 2000 act prohibits governments from imposing a substantial burden on inmates' religious practices without a "compelling governmental interest" and unless the burden is the least restrictive to achieve that interest.
El-Tabech said in the 2004 lawsuit that prison officials were violating his rights under the Constitution and the act by denying him access to a kosher diet and interfering with his prayer schedule. El-Tabech, 49, also claimed he needed to shower daily in keeping with beliefs he based on the Quran. He is currently permitted three or four showers a week.
Bataillon held a non-jury trial on the lawsuit was in Omaha in May.
Attorneys for the state argued El-Tabech's diet requests would increase the costs of food and food preparation, and might create a perception of favoritism among other inmates. In addition, the state said that El-Tabech's food request, if granted by the judge, could trigger an increase in religious diet requests from other inmates.
Bataillon said in an order last month that the state failed to offer any evidence about the economic consequences of providing inmates kosher meals or kosher items at the canteen.