FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Political leaders and rabbis continued to question Tuesday why inmates in Broward County are being prohibited from practicing their religion while behind bars.
Hanukkah began on Sunday evening, but Jewish inmates in Broward will not be allowed to light a menorah with a real flame, according to Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony.
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told Local 10 News’ Rosh Lowe that she is puzzled by what she calls the “insensitivity” Tony has when it comes to Jewish inmates practicing their religion.
“There is a pattern of insensitivity that is deeply disturbing,” said Wasserman Schultz.
Many rabbis are questioning Tony’s ruling even through though Miami-Dade County allows their inmates to light a menorah with a real flame.
“It’s just Hanukkah, we’ve had problems before,” said Rabbi Shmaya Waks.
Wasserman Schultz says there’s a pattern and when Rabbis wanted to go into the jail for Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, they went through security training.
“When the rabbis showed up after completing the security training, there was no notification from the sheriff to the jail administration that they were authorized to enter and engage in that religious practice,” she said.
Tony says he can’t change the current policy and put inmates at risk.
“What we can’t do is to modify policy and put in danger over 3,500 inmates that I’m responsible for,” he said.
Tony has said that the sheriff’s office respects the religious observance of all inmates, but safety comes first.
Wasserman Schultz says even when safety requirements are met, there are still obstacles.
“It shows extreme indifference and insensitivity,” she said. “We have never had this problem in Broward our surrounding counties are able to accommodate the religious needs of inmates and this one isn’t and I think he needs to answer for it.”
In response to this story, BSO sent the following statement to Local 10 News:
BSO releases statement:
The Broward Sheriff’s Office believes that religious worship by inmates is important. To that end, jail facilities utilize hundreds of volunteers from all religious faiths to assist in facilitating meaningful worship for all inmates.
BSO’s Chaplain Services offers trainings classes several times throughout the year to religious leaders to instruct them on security and safety procedures inside jail facilities and to facilitate their approved clearance into the jails. In September of this year, prior to the observance of Rosh Hashanah, BSO facilitated an additional training for several religious leaders. One of the reasons for the training was to discuss the use of the shofar inside the jails. Rabbis were informed that the shofar could be used.
According to Department of Detention records, during Rosh Hashanah only one visit from a rabbi took place. That was on Sept. 27, at the Joseph V. Conte facility in Pompano Beach. BSO records do not indicate that any rabbis were denied entry to any jail facility during Rosh Hashanah.
Overall, any allegation that BSO is not allowing rabbis to utilize the shofar has no merit as it has been approved in the past and will continue to be approved, unless determined otherwise by the BSO Chaplain Services. BSO clearly has a pattern of cooperation not of difficulty.