Judge says DOC will have to pay inmates' kosher meals for now

Saturday, January 22nd 2005, 12:09 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma Department of Corrections will, for now, have to pay for three state inmates to eat kosher food, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The temporary order issued by U.S. District Judge Lee R. West requires the state to pick up the tab for the meals until a final court decision on the inmates' claim is reached.

Joseph Harp Correctional Center inmates Jon Andrew Cottriel, 45; Jerry Harmon, 50; and Dennis Earl Fulbright, 36, have argued that the department's policy of not providing free kosher meals violates their right to freely exercise religion.

Attorney Rand C. Eddy said the recent ruling may encourage his clients _ all convicted sex offenders _ to seek class-action status for their lawsuit, which would make future rulings apply to all Orthodox Jewish inmates in Oklahoma.

``I know that their whole reason for doing this was not just for their benefit,'' Eddy said. ``After some consultation, we may try filing it as a class-action.''

Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General Stefan K. Doughty said he would meet with corrections officials to see if they want reconsideration of the judge's order or to move forward with trial preparations.

``This one will probably get fought,'' Doughty said.

The inmates argue that eating kosher, or food that is ritually fit according to Jewish law, is essential to practicing Orthodox Judaism.

Corrections officials testified that serving the kosher meals to everybody who would want them would cost more than $3 million a year and cause disruptions with inmates.

West found that the three inmates' right to freely exercise their Orthodox Jewish religion outweighs state expenses in providing such meals.

The judge's ruling concurs with a decision by U.S. District Magistrate Judge Gary M. Purcell.

The case was returned to Purcell's courtroom for further proceedings.