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?

Figures.

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.


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