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United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 29, 2005.

JERRY B. COX, JR. Plaintiff,
SHERIFF KRALIK, Rockland County Correctional Facility, CHIEF WILLIAM J. CLARK, Administrative Officer, Rockland County Jail, and CHAPLAIN TERRECIA CLAP, Rockland County Correctional Facility Chaplain, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENISE COTE, District Judge


Plaintiff pro se Jerry B. Cox Jr. ("Cox") is an inmate at the Rockland County Correctional Facility in New City, New York (the "Facility"). He has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Cox, a Muslim, alleges that prison officials violated his constitutional right to free exercise of religion by denying him Halal meals.*fn1 In his complaint, he requests that the Court "[s]ubstantiate [his] civil rights and relieve mental yokes of oppression" by ordering the Facility to provide him with Halal meals.

The defendants have moved for summary judgment on three grounds. First, citing evidence that Cox has been offered Kosher and vegetarian meals, defendants argue that such options fulfill the dietary requirements of the Muslim faith. Second, they move on the ground that Cox failed to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, as required by 42 U.S.C. § 1997. Finally, they argue that defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is granted on the basis that Cox's free exercise of religion is not burdened by the absence of Halal meals, so long as Kosher meals are available. The other grounds for summary judgment are accordingly not reached.


  Under the First Amendment,

[w]here the state conditions receipt of an important benefit upon conduct proscribed by a religious faith, or where it denies such a benefit because of conduct mandated by religious belief, thereby putting substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs, a burden upon religion exists.
Abdul-Malik, 1997 WL 83402, at *7 (quoting Thomas v. Review Board, Ind. Empl. Sec. Div., 450 U.S. 707, 717-18 (1980)). "If a plaintiff establishes that the state has placed such a burden on the exercise of his religion, then the state must justify its actions." Id. "[P]rison regulations imposing burdens on an inmate's free exercise of religion need only be reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest." Id. (citing O'Lone v. Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987)).

  "All that is required for a prison diet not to burden an inmate's free exercise of religion is `the provision of a diet sufficient to sustain the prisoner in good health without violating [his religion's] dietary laws.'" Id. at *6 (quoting Kahane v. Carlson, 527 F.2d 492, 496 (2d Cir. 1975)). Defendants have submitted evidence that Muslim inmates are offered Kosher and vegetarian options for very meal.*fn2 Defendants have also submitted memoranda from two Muslim chaplains stating that it is permissible for Muslims to eat Kosher meals in the absence of Halal meals.

  As Cox points out in his opposition papers, the Kosher diet is similar to the Halal diet but differs in several respects: "Halal [d]iet [r]equirements[] require special preparation, as well as special slaughtering techniques that are perhaps similar to the Kosher laws of Judaism, yet different in many aspects." Cox lists the differences as "1) Halal laws forbid alcohol, Kosher allows it. 2) Halal laws allow shellfish, Kosher forbids shellfish. 3) Halal laws have no restrictions in regard[] to meat and dairy products, Kosher laws forbid any combination of dairy and meat products.*fn3

  Cox concedes that Muslims may eat a Kosher diet if no Halal diet is available. "Plaintiff has done studies and on (Chapter 5, V. 35) of Qur' an[] it's totally correct to what the defendant is saying."*fn4 He goes on to note, however, Jewish law may be more restrictive in the types of meats an adherent may eat than the Islamic faith. That the Kosher diet is somewhat more restrictive than the Halal diet in this and certain other ways — for example, in forbidding combinations of dairy and meat products — does not mean that being offered a Kosher diet rather than a Halal diet imposes an undue burden on Cox's constitutional right to free exercise of religion. This Court and other courts have reached the conclusion under the Free Exercise Clause that vegetarian diets are acceptable substitutes for the Halal diet for incarcerated persons despite the fact that such diets are somewhat more restrictive. See, e.g., Abdul-Malik, 1997 WL 83402, at *7; Williams v. Morton, 343 F.3d 212, 218 (3d Cir. 2003) (applying scrutiny, but ruling that a vegetarian diet was an acceptable substitute for a Halal diet); Abdullah v. Fard, No. 97-3935 1999 WL 98529, at *1 (6th Cir. Jan. 28, 1999) (unpublished opinion) (same). Because the undisputed evidence shows that Cox's free exercise rights are not unduly burdened, it is not necessary to ask whether the Facility's policy is "reasonably related to a legitimate penological interest."

  Cox contends that the Facility could procure Halal foods for its inmates. Nevertheless, the Facility is not constitutionally required to do so if it provides a diet that Cox may eat without violating the tenets of his religion. Defendants' summary judgment motion is accordingly granted.


  Defendants' summary judgment motion is granted. The Clerk of Court shall close the case.



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