May 2, 2012
Most prisoners who get a kosher meal are not Jewish
The Forward has an interesting story about the majority of prison inmates who demand a kosher meal—and they are overwhelmingly not Jewish:
But here’s the thing: Prisons can’t decide who’s a real Jew.
Beyond it being absurd to think that a warden could answer a thousands-year-old question about who can call himself a Member of the Tribe, it’s unconstitutional for government actors to make “religious decisions.”
The government may not inquire into whether a professed religious believer is recognized by any formal religious body or has beliefs that fit within the majority of the religion that he claims to belong to. If an inmate’s stated beliefs were clearly insincere—for instance, if a prisoner told the warden that he is Jewish but repeatedly told prison guards that he’s a Christian separatist—then the prison could deny the inmate a kosher meal. But, aside from that, the warden can’t get involved in deciding who is a Jew.