Macomb County Jail
Macomb County Jail (Credit: Macomb.gov)

CAIR-MI joins legal case of county prisoner denied a kosher diet.

A Muslim group is advocating for a Jewish man who was denied a religious kosher diet while being housed at the Macomb County Jail in 2017.

In court filings July 6, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) announced its appearance as counsel on behalf of plaintiff Brandon Resch, who in November 2017 was transferred from Oakland County Jail, where he was receiving a kosher diet, to Macomb County Jail. There he requested a kosher diet, had an interview with the jail’s chaplain, and was denied a religious kosher diet by the jail because he didn’t have the ability to write to a rabbi and obtain a “letter of good standing.”

Amy V. Doukoure
Amy V. Doukoure

According to the CAIR-MI court filing, “Under no circumstances do a person’s religious rights depend on whether or not they are a member in good standing of a religious organization … Macomb County’s policy of requiring an individual housed in its jail to contact a religious leader — at their own expense and when they may not have access to phone numbers and addresses — to obtain a letter of ‘good standing’ prior to being afforded a religious diet places an undue burden on the individual’s religious practice in violation of the Constitution and the law.”

According to CAIR-MI Staff Attorney Amy V. Doukoure, Resch reached out to the group in a series of letters about his troubles getting kosher meals after saying he had reached out to Jewish organizations that didn’t have the legal staffing to help him.

“The right to maintain a religious diet is of dear importance to the Muslim community,” Doukoure told the JN. “On this issue, the Muslim and Jewish communities are closely aligned.”

Rabbi Boruch Zelouf, a Michigan advocate for the Aleph Institute, a nonprofit that assists Jewish prisoners, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “according to Resch’s grandmother, Resch self-proclaimed as Jewish after entering prison, and that the group therefore does not consider him Jewish.”

Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the JCRC/AJC, said neither Resch nor CAIR had reached out to their organization, but if approached, “we would do our utmost to help,” he told the JN.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin
Rabbi Asher Lopatin

“The JCRC/AJC appreciates anyone who works with prisoners to assert their rights and certainly when it comes to Jewish rituals and kosher food,” Lopatin said. “Criminal justice reform is one of our key advocacy issues, and the ability of prisoners to practice their religion is a basic right that all prisoners and people everywhere deserve.”

Professor Daniel Manville of the Civil Rights Clinic at Michigan State University has been engaged in a lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections for the past several years to give kosher-observant prisoners the right to meat and dairy meals. The court ruled in his favor and he is working to enforce a settlement agreement granted in January of this year.

Resch’s case does not apply to that settlement because he was in a county jail not run by the Michigan Department of Corrections, “where there are a different set of standards for those not yet convicted,” according to Manville.

Manville said he spoke to a CAIR-MI attorney about Resch’s case. “If the jail uses this requirement against a Jewish detainee, it is likely to require it against a Muslim. It is better to stop something like that when you have a good factual case,” he said. “The fact that he was given a kosher diet in Oakland County Jail, but not in Macomb, bolsters the case. Macomb is on shaky ground.”

Doukoure added, “The law has never required anybody to get the approval of someone else that this is your sincerely held religious belief; it is only up to the individual.”

Doukoure said the motion phase of Resch’s case will take place in September and it could go to trial by the end of the year.

Rabbi Lopatin said the JCRC/AJC “will look into this issue seriously.”

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