The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENISE COTE, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
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
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
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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