Jewish Illinois governor nixes availability of kosher, halal meals in schools, hospitals

Religious Jews and Muslims helped formulate the Faith by Plate bill in order to accommodate those with dietary restrictions based on their religion.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Jewish governor of Illinois nixed a law that would have required state institutions to serve kosher and halal meals upon request.

Religious Jews and Muslims together had helped formulate the so-called Faith by Plate bill, which would require state-run schools, prisons and hospitals that provide food services to do so for their religious populations “upon request provided with reasonable notice.”

Upon issuing his veto on Friday, Gov. Jay B. Pritzker (D) focused on the school lunch issue while explaining that the law would overly expand the state’s role.

“The bill would have amended the School Code to require the Illinois State Board of Education to enter into a statewide master contract to provide religious dietary options to all Illinois school districts,” he said.

“Districts are already responsible for all their food service contracts and will continue to have the capability to enter into contracts with meal vendors based on the unique cultural needs of the students in their communities.”

Objections in the state assembly to accommodating those with dietary restrictions due to their faith noted its expense and argued that it violated the American tenet of separation of church and state.

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According to the Halal Times, the bill would have required facilities to provide meat, fish, and vegetarian options for main halal and kosher courses, as well as snacks and beverages.

The Orthodox Agudath Israel movement felt let down by the veto, because the bill “had the potential to demonstrate the state’s commitment to embracing diversity and inclusion in all its forms.”

“Agudath Israel of Illinois (AIOI) is disappointed with Governor Pritzker’s veto of legislation that would have paved the way for students, hospital patients, and incarcerated individuals to access meals that comply with their dietary religious restrictions,” the group continued. “AIOI has worked closely with stakeholders to ensure all faith-based communities have access to food that complies with their religious convictions and remains committed to achieving that goal.”

Maaria Mozaffar, director of advocacy and policy at the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition, had called the bill a “game changer” for parents who would no longer have to check their public school’s menu every day to see if they would have to make food for their children that day or not.

If the bill had been signed, Illinois would have been the first state to mandate such accommodations for its Jewish and Muslim communities. It was supported by two major civil rights groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and Southern Poverty Law Center, the latter of which had called it “a victory for religious freedom in Illinois” when the state assembly passed the bill in May.