New York Law on Labeling Kosher Products Deemed Constitutional
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that a New York law
enacted in 2004, following the invalidation of a prior version, does not violate
the Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and is not
unconstitutionally vague. Commack Self-Service Kosher Meats, Inc. v. Hooker,
No. 11-3517 (2d Cir., decided May 10, 2012).
The previous law, which defined “kosher” in terms of orthodox Hebrew religious requirements and required adherence to them, was found to (i) advance religion, i.e., the dietary restrictions of Orthodox Judaism, and (ii) inhibit religion “by preventing labeling of food products as kosher that did not meet the Orthodox Jewish religious requirements.” The newer version simply required those marketing their food products as “kosher” to label them as kosher and to “identify the individuals certifying their kosher nature.” The new law did not “define kosher or authorize state inspectors to determine the kosher nature of the products.” A New York deli and butcher shop, its shareholders, officers and directors, and a Conservative Jewish rabbi, who had successfully challenged the previous version of the law, also challenged its successor.
Granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss, the district court found that
the new kosher law had a valid secular purpose and, unlike its predecessor,
was “purely a labeling and disclosure law” that “neither endorses a particular
religious viewpoint nor creates an impermissible entanglement with religion.”
The Second Circuit agreed.