Death row inmate who self-converted to Judaism, sues prison for kosher food
A death row inmate, who claims he is now a practicing orthodox Jew after meeting with a prison rabbi in the 90’s, is suing the Connecticut Department Of Corrections claiming they are denying him the practice of his religion by not serving him kosher food.
According to the Hartford Courant, Steven Hayes, 51, has filed a handwritten lawsuit, filed in federal court, stating that he has lost weight and is starving because he is not being provided with a kosher diet.
Hayes was convicted in 2010 for felony murder, rape, and arson during a 2007 home invasion, resulting in the deaths of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her children, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17 in Cheshire, Connecticut.
In his suit, Hayes states the defendants “have been denying a kosher diet I have been requesting since approximately May of 2013. As an orthodox practicing Jew I am entitled to a kosher diet that follows the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut.”
Kashrut specifies what food Jews can eat and how it must be prepared.
Hayes claims the state is violating his 1st Amendment right to free exercise of religion, and his 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, writing, “since the denial of the kosher diet forces me to eat non-kosher food in order to survive. I have also experienced secondary weight loss due to refraining from eating non-kosher products.”
Hayes states he became a Jew after practicing Judaism with a rabbi at another prison in the mid to late 90s.
According to Jewish Prisoner Services International, “a Jew is one who has either been born Jewish or has been properly converted. One cannot become a Jew by simply declaring that he/she is Jewish, or by beginning to practice the Jewish faith.”
According to their website, conversion to Judaism requires a requires a lengthy study of the religion along with approval from a rabbinic court and a conversion ceremony. They also state that it is rare for a court to approve the conversion of somebody who is incarcerated.
According to Hayes, he previously was a follower of Taoism.
The state Department of Corrections has not responded to his suit.