Chicago Church Leaders Want Special Exemption So They Don’t Have to Pay for Water

The city of Chicago — and the whole state of Illinois, really — doesn’t know how to handle money. I know (first-hand) how horribly they’ve handled pensions for teachers and our last mayor left a legacy of throwing away millions of future dollars to fill short-term budget gaps.

The latest controversial money-making decision involves asking non-profits in the city to pay for water, which they’re generally been able to use for free. Over the weekend, Mayor Rahm Emanuel put forth a compromise plan that would only require non-profit groups with assets over $1,000,000 to have to pay for water.

But churches are non-profit groups, too, and the Catholic Church isn’t exactly synonymous with poverty… so they’re not taking this news well, as they made clear in a press conference yesterday:

Water you lookin’ at?

“The lake is a gift from God,” [Cardinal Francis] George said. “It wasn’t owned by the city or invented by the city. We all have to look at water and how to conserve it and how to use it well — and we’re willing to enter it into that conversation, but not by edict.”

“We ask the city of Chicago to consider the work we do for the homeless. Consider the work we do for those who are less, those who have fallen on hard times. It is incumbent on the city of Chicago that they know that they must assist the nonprofits of doing the will of God Almighty. … Without us … this city will lose its salt,” said Elder Kevin Anthony Ford of St. Paul Church of God in Christ.

Got that, everyone? We have to help the Church because the Church helps all of us… (as if other non-profits never help others?)

And while the lake isn’t owned by the city, it doesn’t get cleaned, filtered, and delivered for free, either. That takes money and manpower. This isn’t a tax on churches. This is asking the Church to pay what everyone else pays, and the Church, like it always does, is asking for special treatment.

Cardinal George went on:

They’ve included this as part of those helps that we’ve traditionally enjoyed. But we’ve enjoyed them because we’ve had a society that up until this point in time has thought of religion as a social good. As a kind of a glue that keeps people together. And that’s what we’re saying in this case…

The city and the government are not the ultimate forum for human experience. It does depend upon a faith vision that was more shared perhaps in the past than it is now.

And those kinds of cultural developments we have to face. But we don’t want to face them around this particular issue at this particular time because we simply can’t afford it. And that’s what I meant by saying the lake is after all a gift from God. We feel sometimes maybe we should charge the city for using our water.

Everyone who believes religion is a social good, raise your hand.

No one?


Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune doesn’t buy this argument either:

The claim that the public should pay water bills for organizations that do good things for the community at large is flimsy — what, should we pay their electric bills, too? How about their property insurance? — but at least arguable.

But the claim that the public should pay church water bills because religion itself is such a good thing — a “glue” — that everyone should chip in to pay for it is constitutionally (and otherwise) offensive.

He was joking about the church having a special claim on lake water, but the joke was consistent with the tone of superiority and entitlement in his remarks.

Right on. The Catholic Church — and the leaders of several other faiths who are joining Cardinal George in this water war — shouldn’t get to opt out of doing what all other non-profits have to do just because they believe in God. That doesn’t make them better than everyone else and it sure as hell doesn’t make them more deserving. The Mayor compromised enough when he limited the groups that had to pay the water fee to those who had assets over a million dollars. There’s no reason to extend the exemption to people with imaginary friends.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • C Peterson

    Let them have the water for free… all that their members can dip out of the lake and haul back to their churches in buckets. Isn’t that the traditional biblical way, in any case?

  • Alexis

    Like Moses, they could wave their staff over the rocks around the church and let them spew forth water. That would cost nothing in city services.

  • Stev84

    If the lake if a “gift from god”, then the water should be free for everyone. Not just his cult.

  • Hailey

    Damn straight! Let’s see how good their God is to them when they drink that unfiltered water. Surely their God will protect them from water-bourne diseases, right? ;)

  • JET

    A gift from god to his minions. You however, Hemant, need to pay for it.

  • WallofSleep

    “And that’s what I meant by saying the lake is after all a gift
    from God.”

    Fine. Let the city shut off your water, and you can fetch it for free from the lake in buckets. Otherwise, you are using an infrastructure that costs money to build and maintain, and you should pay your fair share like everyone else. Or did I read your bible wrong? Did Jesus actually mean to say “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but only if you really feel like it”?

    “We feel sometimes maybe we should charge the city for using our water.”

    Hahahaha! Heh, the minute your entire congregation can actually walk upon the water of that lake, I’ll stop laughing.

  • Richard Wade

    This is amazing to me. I’ve never heard of non profit organizations not having to pay for their own utilities. As Eric Zorn asked, does the general public have to pay for their other utilities as well?

    God owns the lake, and we (the RCC) own God, so we get the water for free. Never mind that God doesn’t bring the lake water to our faucets, the City and millions of dollars of infrastructure have something to do with that, but still, we’re entitled because, well because we’re God’s favorites. We also have His ear, so be careful.

    God makes lightening, and lightening is electricity. We own God, etc. etc. so we should get electricity for free. (apply rest of above argument)

    God made the coal, oil and gas in the Earth, and we own God, etc. etc. etc. = heating bills for free.

    How about God made all the Beast and the Plants, and we own God, so we should get all our food for free? All priests and their staff should be able to walk into any restaurant or market in Chicago and walk out with whatever they want for free.

    The sense of entitlement is incomprehensible.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    You can have all the water you want for free. You just have to transport it and decontaminate it yourselves.

  • Lucilius

    I can understand that the church may find it hard to cover current expenses, with the millions it’s had to fork out for abetting child molesters combined with the loss of income from decent people who were driven away by the scandals; but even so, that doesn’t make it the city’s responsibility – or the general public’s – to give them free water.

  • Randomfactor

    So they’ve had a free ride up until now. They should be grateful we don’t bill them for past usage.

    Shut up and render unto Caesar, George.

  • Rogier van Bakel

    I’ll pay for their water as soon as they demonstrate they can turn it into wine, and then send me a few barrels. Château Lafite preferred. Thanks.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Yes. But they should not do such work on the Sabbath or else the church will have to have them stoned to death.

  • Randomfactor

    Seems they ought to be able to turn a profit on their investment…

  • Rogier van Bakel

    This entitlement is evident elsewhere in the Church too. Maybe the Chicago diocese took a page from Jerusalem’s playbook. See

  • ortcutt

    “[T]one of superiority and entitlement in his remarks” Amen, Brother Zorn.

    Religious privilege means they feel entitled to advantages because of their perceived superiority.

  • A3Kr0n

    It seems more and more cities are charging for things that weren’t charged before. Two years ago we started getting a wheel tax, and garbage tax. They can’t put it on the property tax because there’s a cap on that! Who will the city bleed after all the charities are dry, and citizens are completely tapped out? And screw the Catholic church! And screw that church that’s putting up the 60′ Jesus stick in their yard!!!

  • A3Kr0n

    It seems more and more cities are charging for things that weren’t charged before. Two years ago we started getting a wheel tax, and garbage tax. They can’t put it on the property tax because there’s a cap on that! Who will the city bleed after all the charities are dry, and citizens are completely tapped out? And screw the Catholic church! And screw that church that’s putting up the 60′ Jesus stick in their yard!!!

  • AtheistHermione

    Oh yeah! But they’d better not smack that staff on the rock because, you know, that pisses off YHWH.

  • b s

    If they can walk on it (in a liquid state of course), they can have it.

  • b s

    The priests are too busy waving their staffs over altar boys and spewing forth.

  • Darrell Ross

    As resource demand climbs, we must spend more to deliver it further distances and to maintain order and cleanliness on the streets.

    It makes sense that we need to charge more.

    People will inevitably attempt to spend less money. Tax rates must be shuffled around so that it is possible to pay for all needs. (that’s needs not wants – I realize there are some things we don’t *need* to pay for).

  • SteveS

    OK – let him drink that free, unfiltered and untreated water out of lake Michigan. In Deuteronomy 23:13 it says he should go out with a paddle and dig a hole to poop in… I would guess he is going to need to keep that paddle close at hand.

  • jdm8

    Water is a commodity, no one should be demanding special treatment in avoiding paying for commodities used. Just because you believe your invisible friend gave it to everyone doesn’t mean anyone else should have to foot the bill for you to use it.

  • Miss_Beara

    Cardinal George makes me ill. Whenever I see him on the news it is either about him being against gays, women or whining about losing entitlements.

  • Savoy47

    “We all have to look at water and how to conserve it”

    So, all these years the water has been free they’ve just been wasting it. I’m not talking about the “holy water” because we all know that is a waste.

  • Rain

    They need their own personal water supply like this guy…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Why don’t they just pray the water into existence, instead of having the city deliver it to them? The Holy Roman Catholic Church does believe in miracles:

    ‘Miracle’ could see John Paul II canonised in record time</a
    ( I don't mean to spoil it for you, but the miracle was not curing an amputee)

  • RobertoTheChi

    Cheap, entitled fucks.

  • Baby_Raptor

    But the gays are the ones that want special rights, ya’ll. Remember that.

  • LesterBallard

    Render onto Caesar, motherfuckers.

  • Carl

    Hemant, thanks for posting this story. As a Chicago resident, I’ve been following this local tit-for-tat between the city and the church. I am so sick and tired of the arrogance and the feeling of entitlement demanded from us by religion. It just has to stop, and I’m ready to do what I can to fight the church on this issue.

  • SeekerLancer

    Haha, exactly what I was thinking. God will make sure it’s clean and safe to drink, right?

  • smrnda

    Wow, what a phenomenal sense of entitlement. Don’t they already get some tax breaks and a whole bunch of other perks? Aren’t donations to the churches tax deductible? They want water for free? Like someone else said, what’s next, electricity for free? Do they want the city to provide maintenance on buildings for free? That’s effectively taking tax money and putting it right into the church’s pocket.

  • FBG

    It’s on private property, though. I thought you atheists were only concerned with separation of church and state?

  • Miss_Beara

    Maybe they can turn all of this whine into water, amirite?

  • Timmah

    If you think the lake is a gift from god, feel free to go on down and collect your own unfiltered water from the beach. Then instead of all the filtering the city does, just pray over it or something.

    When you can’t get off the toilet for a week (which will be an even bigger problem cause no running water. Again, I suggest praying and see if god does anything about it) then maybe you’ll pay your damn water bill like everybody else.

  • NewDawn2006

    I like this idea!

  • NewDawn2006

    If the Jesus is on private property they have every right to do it. Just like you have the right to erect a 60′ statue of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, or even Hemant in your own yard as a reply. If this is going up on government property then you have an argument.

  • Randay

    “Without us…this city will lose its salt.” However in this case were talking about fresh water, not sea water. Does the Catholic church think like the Muslims that fresh water and salt water don’t mix? Or maybe the church owns some salt mines run by exploited workers, the salt of the earth, and won’t sell it to Chicago.

    “but not by edict” An edict is something that comes from a Pope or kings, not from an elected government. I wonder if the Vatican has to pay Rome for its water.

  • Randay

    They don’t necessarily have the right to put up their Jesus on a stick on private property. There are zoning laws including height restrictions in many areas of cities. Private owners may also have to meet sanitary and eyesore and safety regulations. If part of a church’s roofing falls off and hurts someone, the church is liable.

    Maybe it would be a good idea for the church to put a windmill on the cross to generate its electricity.

  • Luther

    Apparently they are turning it into whine.

  • allein

    Eh, they can just get some Brita pitchers or something…

  • Oranje

    I think the Bears would have a claim on societal glue more than the RCC in Chicago.

    (maybe not, but you can see where this could go)

  • Houndentenor

    Maybe if they weren’t always paying out millions to children they raped they could afford to pay the damn water bill. I’m so sick of whining from the RCC. it’s a criminal organization and should be treated as such until they come clean about the full extent of the child rape scandal.

  • JA

    ” … Without us … this city will lose its salt”

    Um…isn’t cutting back on salt supposed to be a healthy thing?

  • Randay

    I found the answer to my own question, “Based on Article 6 of the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the Vatican also pays no water bills: good news for the clergy, given the five million cubic metres of water they use each year.”

    This article from the Australian “For debt-ridden Italy, charity begins at rome” (long url may not work)

    “According to the Italian Radical Party, of about 50,000 buildings
    around Italy owned by the Vatican at least 30,000 are used for business
    and commerce and are tax-free. Through the ICI[property tax] exemption, the Vatican avoids paying about €2 billion a year.

    While the Vatican does not contribute to the public purse, it certainly takes from it. The Vatican receives 0.8 per cent of each citizen’s taxes: a compulsory payment that goes automatically to the Church if the taxpayer does not specifically state otherwise. Each year, the Vatican receives €1bn from Italian taxpayers. It also pays no VAT and enjoys a 50 per cent reduction on corporate tax.”

    The ex-PM of Italy said he was going to pass a law to make the Vatican pay property tax–the issue is before the European Commission–but with the new government there is little hope. God works in not so mysterious ways.

  • Good and Godless

    Consider the work they do creating the homeless:

    A recent study by the Family Acceptance Project on the impact of family rejection of LGBT youth found that parents who identify as “strongly religious” were significantly more likely to reject their children. According to research by the Center for American Progress, there are an estimated 300,000 homeless LGBT youth in our country, and the leading cause of their homelessness is family rejection.

  • NewDawn2006

    Well we all know they are the persecuted minority. At least they are according to this gem on CNN…

  • Tsu Dho Nimh

    If they don’t want to pay for the purification and delivery of all that God-water, the Church should haul water from the lake in buckets or tank trucks and use it the way God made it!

  • Chris Morrow

    Either that, or he meant “A gift from God to the church alone.” In which case he is claiming full property rights over the water, and everyone should be paying the church for it! Blurgh.