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April 12, 2006

Gov. Blagojevich signs legislation preventing condo boards from interfering with religious practices

SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed Senate Bill 2165, legislation that 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 bill, which unanimously passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly, was sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D – Chicago) and Sen. Ira Silverstein (D – Chicago) and will go in to effect on January 1, 2007.


The legislation was prompted by several cases in Chicago where co-op boards and condo associations have attempted to pass rules that would ban the display of religious symbols in hallways. This has been a particular problem for Jewish residents, who are required by the tenets of their faith to affix a mezuzah, a religious text from the Torah inside a small case, to their doorpost as a sign of faith.


"Being able to display religious symbols is just as fundamental as being able to practice your religious beliefs.  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," said Gov. Blagojevich.


In one case in particular, Lynne Bloch returned from the funeral of her husband, Marvin, to find that the mezuzah had been forcibly removed from her door by the management company of the condo, Shoreline Towers at 6301 N. Sheridan in Chicago. The company claimed that condo rules prohibited anything from being displayed in the hallways. Mrs. Bloch filed a lawsuit that is still pending, as well as a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office under the Illinois Human Rights Act and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. The legislation signed today would guarantee her right to display a mezuzah.


“Banning the display of mezuzahs, which is a religious obligation for Jewish people, is unconscionable,” Rep. 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," said 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." 


The Chicago City Council passed a requirement similar to this legislation in December. Put forward by Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd), it is now a violation of the City’s Fair Housing Ordinance to “interfere with the religious observances or practices” of building tenants, and can incur a fine of $500.


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