By: Mark Fitzgerald
Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich on Wednesday, the eve of Passover, signed into law legislation inspired by Chicago Jewish Star reports that some Chicago condominium boards were forbidding the posting of religious objects in doorways, including the mezuzahs traditionally displayed by Jews.
The new law “will guarantee condo owners can freely observe the doctrines of their religion at home, including being able to display objects on their front door,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
The bill unanimously passed both chamber of the Illinois General Assembly and will go into effect next Jan. 1. The legislation was sponsored by two Chicago Democrats, Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and Sen. Ira Silverstein.
“Being able to display religious symbols is just as fundamental as being able to practice your religious beliefs,” Blagojevich said in a statement. “That’s why this bill is so important. I wanted to sign this bill on the eve of Passover, because the story of Passover is all about being free to practice your beliefs and practice your religion. The freedoms and ideals that make our country so great are the same ideals that Passover celebrates, and the same ideals that people all over world seek every day.”
In explaining the need for the new state law, Blagojevich cited an episode from the Jewish Star reporting by its Editor Douglas Wertheimer in which an elderly woman returned from her husbands funeral to find that the mezuzah on her doorway had been removed by her Chicago condominium’s management company. The woman, Lynne Bloch, has filed a lawsuit against the condo company, and lodged a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations.
Jews are commanded by Scripture to display the cylinders encasing a small strip of parchment inscribed with verses from Deuteronomy. It’s a practice widely observed, even among secular Jews.
“Banning the display of mezuzahs, which is a religious obligation for Jewish people, is unconscionable,” the law’s co-sponsor Feigenholtz said. “This legislation will clarify condo regulations to reflect clear legislative intent to make it permissive to do so.”
“It was really a shame that I had to bring something like this in front of the General Assembly,” added Sen. Silverstein. “One would really think that the Constitution of the United States of America would have already protected these individuals who were so unjustly stripped of what they believed were their first amendment rights. I am pleased that we can now guarantee the freedoms that these individuals deserve, and I applaud the Governor for signing the bill in such a timely fashion.”
Last December, reacting to the Jewish Star reporting, the Chicago City Council passed a similar law protecting the doorway display of religious objects.