To what extent may a public institution which offers meals for religious convention or for dietary restrictions (kosher/halal/gluten-free) deny other students these meal options?

If a student requests access to an existing kosher/halal meal option, do they have the right to ask or to demand their religious background?

If the student answers that they are not muslim or Jewish, do they lose their to access to such foods? What if they say they are not muslim or Jewish but still follow halal/kosher convention?

If the student discloses that they are not muslim to an employee of the state university or other public institution, would it be illegal for that employee to disclose that fact to other employees without permission?

With respect to nonreligious reasons for dietary restrictions, how severe must a food intolerance be to warrant access to food reserved for individuals with particular dietary restrictions, assuming state education institutions have a right to restrict these options? For example, if one were to follow a food elimination diet to conclude which foods are most conducive to healthy bowel movements, mental acuity, and physical health, would this be sufficient for access to previously existing food options for individuals with dietary restrictions?

The student pays for the dining services. By public institution, let's say: a state college or university.

It's unclear whether there is a scarcity of such food options. There is a form for requesting such food, which does not ask for proof of religion. Nevertheless, one may walk in and request the, for example, halal meal option and the chef will make it without question. The dietary supervisor approves a list of students with serious allergies and may also tell a chef not to serve the halal/kosher meal option to a student they suspect is not muslim/jewish.

  • Does the student pay for the food or is it provided as a charitable act? Does the state or federal government subsidize the food offering? By public to you mean state-sponsored? Aug 31, 2022 at 22:52
  • @GeorgeWhite Updated Sep 1, 2022 at 0:35
  • Do the specific food options have to be ordered/requested in advance ie is there a limited amount of this food foreseen for students with a “legitimate” claim to it?
    – AsheraH
    Sep 1, 2022 at 4:45
  • What form of proof even exists for religious or dietary choices or restriction? To my knowledge no public or private institution anywhere insists on a doctor’s note if you order gluten free. And how do you prove or disprove your religious beliefs?! (I would guess it might be illegal for them to ask…) Sep 1, 2022 at 14:14
  • @AsheraH updated Sep 2, 2022 at 23:15

1 Answer 1


Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, title IV, public education must be "desegregated", which means that students are assigned "without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin". According to the Department of Justice,

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizes the Attorney General to address certain equal protection violations based on religion, among other bases, in public schools and institutions of higher education. The Educational Opportunities Section works to ensure that all persons regardless of their religion are provided equal educational opportunities. The Section's work includes addressing discrimination and harassment on the basis of religion, and spans all religious affiliations.

There is a list of religion cases, the vast majority of which also involve First Amendment issues (unlawful prohibition of religious expression). There seems to be no case law to suggest that an institution must make religious accommodations for meals, and also no law that prohibits discriminating against those who cannot claim a religious accommodation basis for special meals. In other words, the school can set its own policy in this regard.

There are USDA regulations 7 CFR Part 210 that relate to the School Lunch program which applies to high school and below, and which includes guidelines for religious variants, but this program does not exist for universities.

  • May the university demand proof of religious conviction to receive such accommodations? Sep 3, 2022 at 5:34
  • It might do so. Again we don't know how the courts would rule if such a case arose (and what the legal rationale is). The courts don't generally judge whether a particular viewpoint constitutes a "bona fide religion", but they do distinguish between a transient ideological posture and "deep-seated foundational beliefs about the nature of the universe".
    – user6726
    Sep 3, 2022 at 15:07
  • May a university demand proof of a "deep seated foundational belief" about not eating animals before serving a vegan meal? Would a "transient ideological posture" to temporarily reduce the consumption of red meat for health reasons fail to meet a standard? Is one's personal beliefs and preferences about diet any more or less relevant than choosing a particular food for religious or medical reasons? Sep 3, 2022 at 18:36
  • Yes, to the extent that government action cannot tend to establish or limit the practice of religion under the First Amendment. The word "religion" is hard-wired into concepts of "rights" in the US.
    – user6726
    Sep 3, 2022 at 19:35
  • So is the concept of freedom of choice. I would no more endorse the practice of a government issued vegan ID card than I would condone requiring Jews to sew a yellow Star of David on their garments to qualify for a Kosher meal. One should be able to order a meal of their choice without need for any explanation or justification whatsoever. Sep 3, 2022 at 20:35

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