A U.S. federal judge has ruled that a Jewish inmate in a New York jail does not have a constitutionally protected right to matzoh and grape juice.
Christopher Henry, who was convicted of first-degree sodomy, claimed permanent trauma and malnourishment and requested nearly $10 billion in damages for what he called a violation of his First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Henry didn’t request matzoh for Passover, the Jewish holiday during which it is traditionally eaten. Instead, Henry claimed he had a right to have the unleavened bread served daily and grape juice every Friday.
But…U.S. Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin held that the Rikers Island jail could deny Henry his request in the interests of maintaining order and keeping costs reasonable.
“Providing individualized meals to a single inmate might well foster an impression of favoritism, which could lead to jealousy and resentment among the inmate population, which in turn could cause tension and threaten prison security,” she wrote.
“Similarly, providing individualized meals to one or several inmates would involve a substantial increase in administrative costs.”
Scheindlin noted that Henry already receives Kosher meals and is allowed to meet with a rabbi.
Not that Rikers Island is a paradise among jails; but – cultural niceties aren’t a special responsibility of our penal system. Access to education, basic healthcare, is sufficient. The rest is silence.