NEW YORK, May 11 (Reuters) - New York's kosher-labelling
rules interfere with freedom of religion about as much as St.
Patrick's Day celebrations, a federal appeals court has decided.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday said New
York's Kosher Law Protection Act, passed in 2004, in no way
interferes with religion and exists solely for preventing fraud.
"The labeling law has the secular purpose of protecting
against fraud by informing a consumer that a particular seller
believes a product is kosher," the decision said, affirming
Brooklyn federal court judge Nina Gershon's 2011 opinion.
Thursday's case was the second attempt by Commack Kosher, a
deli and butcher shop in Commack, New York, to convince the
Circuit that New York's kosher law improperly interferes with
freedom of religion.
The first time around, the appeals court allowed the shop's
1996 lawsuit, saying the law at the time wrongly stepped into
religious matters by defining the term "kosher." In light of the
circuit decision, the legislature passed a revised law in 2004.
On Thursday, the appeals court rejected Commack's attempt at
a second bite of the apple.
Unlike its earlier version, the 2004 Kosher Act "did not
define kosher or authorize state inspectors to determine the
kosher nature of the products," wrote judge Christopher Droney.
He was joined by Judges John Walker and Gerald Lynch.
The court drew a parallel with a St. Patrick's Day parade,
which it identified as a secular activity with religious roots.
Many people buy Kosher food for non-religious reasons, the
decision said, quoting an argument by the State, and they must
be protected from fraud.
In its 2008 lawsuit, Commack alleged the kosher law was
biased in favor of an Orthodox Jewish definition of kosher food,
and thus violated the Establishment Clause.
The appeals court, however, noted that the law is aimed at
protecting more than just Jews, who constitute only about 30
percent of kosher-food consumers.
Robert Dinerstein, a lawyer for Commack, was not immediately
available to comment on the decision.
The 2004 law allows food sellers and producers to determine
for themselves what kosher practices to follow. The law requires
the person who certifies a product as kosher to register with
the Department of Agriculture. Vendors must also keep records of
their purchases of kosher meat and poultry, and signs must be
posted if both kosher and non-kosher foods are sold in the same
Under the law, inspectors must also verify that vendors
visibly post a "kosher certification form" that shows whether
their meat is soaked and salted, and if so, how.
The case is Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc v.
Patrick Hooker et al, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit,
For Commack: Robert Jay Dinerstein of Commack, New York.
For Hooker et al: Office of the New York Attorney General.
(Reporting By Basil Katz)
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