Springfield, IL — In a move that surprised both Jewish and Muslim communities, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has vetoed a bill proposing that public institutions, including schools and hospitals, serve meals compliant with both kosher and halal dietary standards.
The bill, titled the ‘Faith by Plate Act’, aimed to champion cultural diversity by ensuring state-run facilities offered halal and kosher meals upon timely request. Although the proposal enjoyed robust backing from significant Orthodox Jewish and Muslim segments, Governor Pritzker dismissed it, raising concerns about the role the Illinois State Board of Education would play.
In his veto message, the Governor elucidated that the bill, had it been approved, would compel the State Board of Education to oversee a statewide master contract facilitating these religious meal options for all Illinois districts. He remarked, “While school districts are currently managing their food service contracts, they remain equipped to tailor these contracts based on the distinct cultural requirements of their student bodies.”
The guiding principles for religious dietary accommodations, according to Governor Pritzker, stem from the Food and Nutrition Service of the US Department of Agriculture.
His decision wasn’t received favorably by all. The Illinois chapter of Agudath Israel of America (AIOI), a pivotal representative body for the Orthodox Jewish communities in the US, openly expressed their discontent. They pointed out that had the bill been signed into law, Illinois would’ve been a pioneering state, showcasing its dedication to promoting cultural diversity.
In a public statement, AIOI highlighted, “The legislation vetoed by Governor Pritzker was instrumental in paving the way for students, hospital patients, and inmates to obtain meals in line with their religious dietary norms. Our organization, after collaborative efforts with various stakeholders, remains dedicated to ensuring every individual has access to food that aligns with their religious beliefs.”
The inception of this bill was inspired by Jewish and Muslim parents who often found themselves meticulously inspecting their children’s school menus, ensuring meals conformed to their religious standards. Reflecting on this community-driven initiative earlier this year, Rabbi Shlomo Soroka of AIOI shared with the Chicago Tribune, “Our interfaith collaboration in this endeavor is a testament to our shared values. We stand united in this cause.”
The future of the bill remains uncertain, but its strong community backing may prompt a reconsideration or revision to address the Governor’s concerns.