(JTA) – The California prison system is violating a Messianic Jewish prisoner’s constitutional rights by denying him kosher food, a state appeals court ruled.
A three-justice panel of the California 3rd District Court of Appeals ruled Jan. 11 that Margarito Jesus Garcia, who is serving 15 years to life for a conviction on second degree murder, should receive kosher meals from the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, reversing a lower court ruling.
The justices said the corrections department was in violation of Garcia’s rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
Garcia said he was Catholic when he entered prison, but in 2009 requested kosher meals, saying he had been practicing Messianic Judaism for the last two years. The prison’s Jewish chaplain rejected Garcia’s request, saying he was not practicing Judaism as his "sincerely held belief."
Kosher meals cost $7.97 per inmate per day to provide, compared with $2.90 for regular meals, the corrections department told the court. The kosher meals are more desired by inmates because they are of better quality and taste better, the court was told.