The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants Americans the freedom to practice whichever religion they choose. This applies even to prison inmates, so long as free religious practice does not compromise prison security, require outlandish economic expense or make outlandish requests the prison is unable to feasibly grant. As the Orange County Register reports, inmate Malcolm Alarmo King and his legal representative exercised his First Amendment rights. Now King is receiving three kosher meals a day based upon a judge’s acceptance of Festivus as a legitimate religious faith.
Festivus: Kosher for the rest of us
An imaginary religion founded by the cantankerous Frank Costanza (played by comedian Jerry Stiller on TV’s “Seinfeld”), Festivus is essentially an anti-consumerism spin on Christmas. An unadorned aluminum pole replaces the gaudy Douglas fir swathed in distracting tinsel, while feats of strength and airing of grievances replace merry holiday carols.
While 38-year-old Liberian Malcolm King, a longtime inmate at Theo Lacy jail in Orange, Calif., is not one for Festivus miracles per se, he is a fan of healthy eating. Rather than accept the standard salami meals Theo Lacy offers, King asked his lawyer Fred Thiagarajah to petition for kosher meals, which are more expensive for prisons to provide but more in keeping with King’s desire to maintain his healthy physique.
State religious preference here
In order to receive kosher meals, Malcolm King had to state his religious preference. Not having one, he smartly responded with “Healthism.” Once the Sheriff’s Department challenged the response, King’s dietary regimen went before the court. Judge Derek Johnson told Thiagarajah that a real religious preference would have to be listed on the paperwork if King wanted kosher meals.
Thiagarajah’s quick-witted response was ‘Festivus’
After some research, it was discovered that former “Seinfeld” writer Dan O’Keefe’s father actually created a kind of proto-Festivus. Dan O’Keefe later wrote it into the program. In 2010, a judge ruled and now Malcolm Alarmo King gets three non-salami meals per day. Apparently, there is as much concise, unequivocal evidence that Festivus is a legitimate religion as there is for any other faith-based institution.