The US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a Texas prison must provide free kosher meals for Orthodox Jewish inmate Max Moussazadeh.
Moussazadeh said that prison officials' refusal to provide him with a kosher diet violated the doctrine of the Torah which states that the consumption of foods deemed unclean defiles the body and the soul. Under kosher requirements, foods must be prepared and handled in a strict and specific manner in order to be fit for consumption by adherents.
In 2005 Moussazadeh filed suit against the State of Texas after prison officials denied his request that he be served free kosher meals.
"I feel that I am going against my beliefs and that I will be punished by God for not practicing my religion correctly," wrote Moussazadeh in his complaint, according to the Beaumont Enterprise.
A lower court judge dismissed the case saying that Moussazadeh was not sincere about his religious beliefs and that all avenues of resolution had not been pursued.
However, in 2007 the state established a "kosher kitchen" at the Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon and Moussazadeh was transferred there until he was moved to the Mark Stiles Unit in Beaumont because of disciplinary issues. The Stiles Unit did not provide free kosher meals but offered items that inmates could purchase.
On Dec.21 Moussazadeh filed a complaint, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The law forbids the government from restricting religious rights of an institutionalized person. This time the court ruled in his favor and ordered the prison to provide Moussazadeh his kosher meals.
This is not the first time the criminal justice system has worked in favor of the 35-year-old Moussazadeh. According to prison records he is serving a 30-year prison sentence for murder. In 1993 Moussazadeh acted as lookout while his co-defendants shot convenience store owner David Orlando to death during a robbery.
Under the Texas "Law of Parties" Moussazadeh was originally charged with capital murder which carries a penalty of up to life imprisonment or death by lethal injection. Because he was a juvenile at the time of the offense, the death penalty was immediately removed from the table, leaving only life imprisonment, This too was eventually removed when prosecutors offered Moussazadeh a plea deal in exchange for his testimony against a co-defendant.
What neither Moussazadeh nor the others involved in the plea deal knew was that 11 days before the crime was committed the law had changed. Consequently, Moussazadeh was sentenced to a term of 75 years instead of the agreed upon 30-year sentence. In 2009 Moussazadeh was also convicted on three counts of possession of a controlled substance in a correctional facility and sentenced to an additional 7 years for each count.
However, due to the error in his original sentencing Moussazadeh successfully petitioned the court and was re-sentenced on Aug. 6, 2012 to 30 years with time already served.
He will be eligible for parole on Jan. 6 according to prison records.
Related stories and sources:
Texas Department of Criminal Justice Offender Information
The Schaffer Law Firm
Texas District and County Attorney's Assn.
Texas Judiciary Online
Texas Criminal Court of Appeals - Moussazadeh, Max Applicant