COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The inmates say they're Jewish, but the prison considers them Protestant.
A long-running debate over defining the term "Messianic Jew" has spilled into a dispute over self-described Messianic Jews at an Ohio prison claiming discrimination in their attempts to keep kosher.
Messianic Jews say they can be Jewish while believing that Jesus is the Messiah foretold in Jewish scriptures an idea contrary to traditional Judaism.
At least four Messianic Jewish prisoners at Richland Correctional Institution in Mansfield have filed grievances, alleging discrimination. Federal law says the government cannot impede the religious exercise of an inmate unless those restrictions support a compelling governmental interest.
The Rev. Gary Sims, religious-services administrator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said he revoked kosher privileges for Messianic Jews in 2004 after consulting with Messianic Jewish rabbis who told him the meals weren't essential. The meals also are prohibitively expensive, he said.
Another complaint stems from the fact that the Messianic Jews have to meet on Sundays because there's no volunteer to serve them on the Jewish Sabbath, which begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday. Regular chaplains are off during that time, Sims said.
He said the prison system is re-evaluating its religious-accommodation policies.