On Dec. 5, a federal judge ordered the state of Florida to serve kosher meals for inmates who request them and are found to have "a sincere religious basis for keeping kosher." After a 2012 lawsuit, the state had promised to comply in all its prison facilities, but has been "dragging its heels," as the Jewish Exponent put it.
Their reasoning in denying the meals? Cost.
Ordering a kosher meal has long been a semi-clever way to dodge limp shrimp or dank ham (or a fun way to prank a travel companion) in "captive meal" settings, like schools or airplanes. Given the choice between individually boxed and wrapped meals and a steam-tray cafeteria line, many people, not just the incarcerated, opt for the box lunch, perhaps believing them to be cleaner (which is kind of the point of keeping kosher, just saying) or less likely to be adulterated in some way.
Mind you, these kosher prison meals are no orgasm-inducing Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwiches. They look fairly boring, in fact (see photo, above). But the individual meals cost four times as much as the vat-o-slop option, according to Michael D. Crews of the state Department of Corrections, so it's not surprising they're trying to weed out the truly religious from those who just don't want to eat creamed chipped beef.
However, since being ordered to comply by July 1, the state currently offers kosher meals in just one (1) facility. Florida has a sizable Jewish population and runs the third-largest prison system in the U.S., yet it's one of only 15 states that do not offer inmates a kosher diet systemwide.
Eric Rassbach, of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, says (rather understatedly): “It’s a holdout. I don’t know why it’s being a holdout. It is strange that Florida, of all places, is placing a special burden on Jewish inmates.” Hmmm
could it be because Florida is the kind of state where a state senator's reply, upon hearing what it might cost to offer inmates the ability to live according to their religious beliefs, was:
“Is bread and water considered kosher? Just a thought. Just a thought.” (That would be Sen. Greg Evers, Republican chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. What a kidder!)
Anyway, there are a lot of hot-button issues at play here: freedom of religion; prisoners' rights; the public's unspoken feeling that criminals should be punished, not coddled. Plus throw in a little casual anti-Semitism, and it all adds up to a pretty nasty stew.