Illinois Lawmakers To Give Millions in Taxpayer Money to Churches

The Illinois Constitution contains not-so-subtle wording that says we have a separation of church and state:

ARTICLE X, SECTION 3. PUBLIC FUNDS FOR SECTARIAN PURPOSES FORBIDDEN — Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money, or other personal property ever be made by the State, or any such public corporation, to any church, or for any sectarian purpose.

FROM ARTICLE I, SECTION 3 — No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship against his consent…

ARTICLE XIII, SECTION 1(a) — Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.

However, a $31,000,000,000 — no typo — capital bill (PDF) was recently signed by Governor Pat Quinn. Of that money, more than $11,000,000 is earmarked for various religious projects.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune notes some of the earmarks:

  • Article 9, Section 560. The sum of $50,000… to the Torah Technical Institute for costs associated with capital improvements. (Note, the State Journal-Register could find no evidence that the “Torah Technical Institute” exists)
  • Article 10, Section 725. The amount of $200,000… to Mt. Vernon Baptist Church for construction of a commercial kitchen at the JLM Abundant Life Center.
  • Article 10, Section 740. The amount of $150,000…to Calvary Baptist Church in Chicago for infrastructure improvements at the Complex and Gymnasium.
  • Article 9, Section 2605. The sum of $1,000,000… to Jubilee Market, Inc. for costs associated with capital improvements. (Note: per the above link, Jubilee Market is a Christian-themed convenience store that advertises, “Serving You with the Care of Christ” Rob Sherman said he visited the store over the weekends and it appears to be closed indefinitely).

The list goes on for a while, with seemingly every Catholic school in the city getting money like nobody’s business.

Rob Sherman, a lawyer and atheist activist living just outside of Chicago, is leading the charge to find these earmarks and stop them before they are disbursed.

He previously made headlines for stopping $1,000,000 of taxpayer money from being given to the Pilgrim Baptist Church, an event which resulted in one state representative saying it was dangerous for children to know atheists exist.

Now, he’s rightfully citing the state Constitution:

That’s exactly the statute that I used to stop ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich from donating one million of your tax dollars to Pilgrim Baptist Church.

The Capital Bill is Pilgrim Baptist on steroids. I will be using the very same statute and procedure, when I file suit in the next few days, to stop each and every one of the hundreds of donations of your tax dollars to parochial schools, houses of worship and religious ministries.

I hope he’s victorious here. We don’t need taxpayer money going to already tax-exempt, private churches. They have tithers who can foot their bills.

The ACLU of Illinois is checking this out, too.

“At first blush, there are things that raise concerns,” said Edwin Yohnka, ACLU spokesman. “There appears to be direct funding of religious activity or things that are part of a religion. It depends on what the money is used for.”

Yohnka and Sherman agree that it’s OK for the state to give $7 million to Catholic Charities, which provides a variety of non-religious programs to people in need. They disagree over whether the state should be giving money to parochial schools – Sherman says no, but Yohnka sees no problem as long as the money is spent on non-religious items.

“It’s not unconstitutional to give money to religious institutions engaged in social service activities when they’re provided in a non-discriminatory way,” Yohnka said.

But some items in the capital budget are problematic for both men.

We’ll see where this goes. And seriously, read this list of how much money is being given to religious places. It’s disgusting, it looks illegal, and only a handful of people seem to have taken notice in my state.

  • JG

    I’m not even sure I agree with the religious institutions providing non-religious programs. Just imagine the following case:

    pre-donation budget (exaggerated slightly)
    $7m to non-religious programs

    post-donation budget
    $7m to non-religious programs
    $7m to religious programs

    Don’t worry, your money went to the non-religious programs, but then we re-allocated the other money (our discretionary funds) to places we thought were now under-funded. This is exactly why “earmarked” donations are an entirely fictional concept unless they’re WAY more than the normal operating budget for that cause.

  • bill

    umm yeah i’d say blatant disregard for the illinois constitution’s clear separation of church and state is grounds for action. i mean, it’s pretty cut and dry. any judge with any sense will stop these funds from reaching their intended destinations. i mean seriously what are the people elected to govern illinois thinking? we hear about programs being cut from schools all the time, and especially in such rough economic times this money should be going to public schools. if christian schools need more money they need to raise tuition, they are private businesses and should not be the recipient of public funds, as it clearly states in the illinois constitution.

  • David D.G.

    Yohnka and Sherman agree that it’s OK for the state to give $7 million to Catholic Charities, which provides a variety of non-religious programs to people in need. They disagree over whether the state should be giving money to parochial schools – Sherman says no, but Yohnka sees no problem as long as the money is spent on non-religious items.

    I disagree with both of these people. Absolutely NO tax-based funds should be given to any religious organization.

    Giving tax funds to support a religious entity’s allegedly nonreligious activities merely enables that entity to spend more of its other funds on religious activities, so it is still providing indirect support for the religious activities. I don’t see any way of getting around this simple equation.

    ~David D.G.

  • http://primesequence.blogspot.com/ PrimeNumbers

    Religious buildings / charities etc. etc. get their money from their supporters, directly and tax free (I don’t agree with the tax free bit).

    There is zero need for public money to go to any church or religion for any reason. Zero. None. Never.

    Anyone who does so, like in this case, is practically criminal, basically stealing from the public purse to give to buy votes.

    Not only should they be struck from office, but forced to write out the offending section of the constitution 1000 times.

  • Gordon

    why exactly is it that churches do not pay taxes on their enormous incomes?

  • Nick

    I’m almost certain this will be struck down. This is the state’s first capital bill in something like 10 years. And it seemed to be was a rush job. Perhaps a few in the state legislator thought they could slip the line items in during the fury to pass it.

    I mean, even a Illinois-based conservative blog was one of the first to start questioning the constitutionality of the measure. I can’t imagine this surviving.

  • Dan W

    Wow, are all the legislators who put those earmarks in there idiots? Every single one of those is clearly in violation of the Illinois constitution, and must be struck down.

  • Kahomono

    “At first blush, there are things that raise concerns,” said Edwin Yohnka, ACLU spokesman. “There appears to be direct funding of religious activity or things that are part of a religion. It depends on what the money is used for.”

    [Emphasis mine]

    Bzzzt! Wrong! It does NOT depend on what the money is used for. Every dollar that goes to a church advances its mission of spreading its mythology. It is the height of foolishness to say, well, no they are just upgrading the kitchen. Where do you suppose they will now spend the tithes they have already collected that WOULD have gone to the kitchen?

  • Jodie

    So the state of Illinois owes my non-faith based, non-profit, place of work over $60,000 from fiscal year 09…..Thanks Gov, Quinn — neither my job nor services for people with AIDS matter more to you than a kitchen in a church….


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