This Is A Disgrace To The Establishment Clause

I must once again thank Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist for calling this to attention. If you live in the United States at all and ESPECIALLY Illinois, you need to know about this. In Illinois' recently signed $31 Billion Capital Bill, there is over $11 Million earmarked specifically for religious projects. Yeah, you read that right $11 Million in tax payer dollars set aside for institutions that don't even pay taxes. First, a few bits from the Illinois State Constitution that makes it 100% clear that there is NO wiggle room here:


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.

Pretty clear, no? Well, I guess it's not clear to the the people in the Illinois Legislature as here are just some of the projects set to receive tax payer dollars under this newly signed bill:

Article 7, Section 215. The sum of $5,000,000...to the Resurrection Program for development of off-campus student housing. Article 9, Section 455. The sum of $25,000... to NCSY – Midwest Mesorah Region for costs associated with construction of a new facility. (Note: NCSY stands for "National Conference of Synagogue Youth" and its stated mission is "to connect, inspire and empower Jewish teens and encourage passionate Judaism through Torah and Tradition.")

Article 9, Section 540. The sum of $100,000... to Telshe Yeshiva Chicago for costs associated with renovations to the facility. ( Note, Telshe Yeshiva Chicago's mission is "to train students in the skills required for understanding, studying and mastering the Talmud and the considerable body of traditional Jewish thought.")

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 730. The amount of $400,000... to the Haven of Rest Missionary Baptist Church for building improvements and renovations of the John Conner Fellowship Hall and Community 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 1160. The sum of $250,000, .. to the Friendship House of Christian Service for costs associated with renovations to the facility.

Article 9, Section 1890. The sum of $100,000... to Epworth United Methodist Church for costs associated with renovations and improvements to the facility’s Community House.

Article 9, Section 2600. The sum of $250,000...to Christian Love M.B. Church for costs associated with capital improvements.

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).

Article 9, Section 2610. The sum of $200,000... to Bethel Lutheran Church for costs associated with capital improvements.

Article 9, Section 2625. The sum of $700,000... to St. Malachy School for costs associated with capital improvements.

Article 9, Section 2635. The sum of $750,000... to St. Anthony W.W. Temple for costs associated with capital improvements.

Article 9, Section 2640. The sum of $100,000...to WMC West Side Ministers Coalition for costs associated with capital improvements.

Article 10, Section 1790. The amount of $150,000... to the Muhammad Holy Temple of Islam for facility improvements at the Salaam Conference Center.

Article 10, Section 1805. The amount of $140,000... to Catholic Bishop of Chicago for general infrastructure at St. Martin de Porres Church.

Article 10, Section 3870. The amount of $135,000...to the Archdiocese of the Chicago Office of Education for general infrastructure for the following schools: St. Tarcissus, St. Cornelius, St. Constance, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Edwards, Our Lady of Victory, St. Pascals, St. Bartholomew, and St. Ladislaus.

Article 10, Section 5620. The amount of $150,000... to Community Christian Alternative Academy for general infrastructure improvements.

Article 10, Section 5990. The amount of $200,000... to the Hope Community Church for general infrastructure improvements.

That is LESS THAN HALF of the list of taxpayer monies going to religious institutions which can be found here.
Luckily, they've got a fight on their hands. Rob Sherman, a lawyer and atheist activist, is ready to fight to put a stop to this egregious violation of both the Illinois and United States Constitution. If you recognize the name, there's a reason. It was during Mr. Sherman's fight to stop $1,000,000 in taxpayer funds from being delivered to the Pilgrim Baptist Church that Rep. Monique Davis went on her now famous tirade, publicly announcing that "it's dangerous for children to even know" that atheism exists.


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.

The ACLU of Illinois has also gotten involved:

“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.


And in the most shocking turn of them all, David Smith of Illinois Family Institute, a conservative Christian group, has also spoken out against the bill.

Smith says he's discussing with his attorneys whether or not their conservative Christian group should join atheist [Robert I.] Sherman's effort to stop taxpayer dollars from being spent on buildings where social or religious agendas are promoted...
Who would have imagined two such polar religious opposites as Sherman and Smith would ever come together to fight for separation of church and state? And who would have ever imagined it would take a $31 billion capital bill to bring it about? Perhaps it would be a good time for state lawmakers to review the document they swear to uphold when they enter office. It could save us all a lot of frustration.


I'm certain we have some people from Illinois here, and even if you're NOT a citizen of Illinois you still might want to contact as many state officials as you can and let them know exactly how you feel about this. After all we are all citizens of the United States and this ridiculous bill they've signed violates not just the state but the federal constitution. It is blatant in doing so. There's not even an attempt to hide it as it just lists religious institution after religious institution set to receive millions in tax payer dollars.

Views: 10

Tags: atheism, capital-bill, establishment-cause, illinois, separation, separation-of-church-and-state

Comment by Reggie on July 29, 2009 at 10:56pm
It's a never ending war. Good, informative post, Sabre! Thank you.
Comment by Dave G on July 30, 2009 at 10:27am
It is indeed a blatant violation of the establishment clause, and even the provision of money to religious groups that are ostensibly to be used for non-religious purposes are questionable, since it may be used to replace funding that will then be used for proselytizing. (I realize that this is a grey area, thus my use of questionable. Debate on this topic would be interesting)

These funds, however, are not even being provided with that slight bow to the law.
Comment by Dave G on July 30, 2009 at 3:56pm
Neal, if they are restricting who they are helping by religious beliefs, then that is certainly a problem. I was thinking more along the lines of a church that runs a soup kitchen, one that provides food to anyone, without question, and also without prayer, proselytizing, or promotion of their religion. It certainly seems perfectly secular, and therefore unobjectionable.

But, what if the church then uses the money it had been using to run the kitchen, money which is no longer needed to fund it, as the government grant is now funding it, to preach? A case could be made that the government funds are indirectly funding religious promotion.
Comment by SabreNation on July 31, 2009 at 9:22am
You make a very good point, Dave. Makes me think of a recent local event here in Buffalo. Mercy Hospital received an $30 million government grant for renovating and upgrading their facilities. Mercy Hospital is sponsored and overseen by Catholic Health Systems. Per CHS policy, they will not prescribe any form of birth control nor will they perform abortions (even in life threatening situations) or even refer you to anyone that will. I had one friend that went a OB/GYN there for a pregnancy test. When it came out positive she decided to inquire into abortion, not only did the doctor refuse to point her in the direction of anyone that would do it, she got a 15 minute lecture on the evils of abortion and why she should keep the baby. She switched to an independent OB/GYN with no religious affiliation the next day.

Should this hospital be eligible to receive tax payer dollars? They are run by a sternly sectarian organization and not only are the hospital's policies based in Catholicism but they apparently have no qualms preaching to you about their policies if you ask about something the Catholic church says is a no-no.

On the other hand, Buffalo is sorely lacking in quality emergency care centers (ECMC and Millard-Fillmore/Gates are the only decent ones), and a large chunk of that grant is going to improve Mercy's emergency care operations (not-so-fondly known in Buffalo as "The Butcher Shop.")

It's certainly an interesting point. There are plenty of other hospitals with no religious affiliation that could have received that grant money.

It still kinda irks me that with our current budget crisis no one has asked why we still allow churches and religious institutions tax breaks anyway. They certainly benefit from all the things tax money pays for. If a church is on fire, the fire department will come put it out. If someone robs a church the police will investigate. They are obviously deeply involved in the American political process. So why don't they have to pay taxes? Could you IMAGINE the influx of money if the government were to start applying all the normal property and income taxes to religious institutions?
Comment by Dave G on July 31, 2009 at 12:08pm
Quite so, Sabre. The tax-exempt status of churches is, if you will forgive the phrase, a sacred cow.
Comment by Reggie on July 31, 2009 at 12:59pm
The tax-exempt status of churches is, if you will forgive the phrase, a sacred cow.

I fucking hate that cow.
Comment by Dave G on July 31, 2009 at 2:33pm
@Neal
With regard to the coup kitchen, we'll say for the sake of argument that it is in a neutral, non-religious location.
And I agree that any religious group would have great difficulty in separating their religious aims from their secular ones, even when their intent to do so was completely honest. If I were a member of a church that wished to perform such a charitable service, and wished to get government money to fund it, I would make a point of forming a separate, secular organization for that purpose. That would dramatically reduce the possibility of violation of the establishment clause.
Comment by SabreNation on July 31, 2009 at 2:58pm
@Neal

That's my thought process as well. I think the "in the area" part is where the problem comes in. While there are plenty of non-religious hospitals in and around Buffalo, there is a severe LACK of them in the south Buffalo area. Actually Mercy is the only hospital for anyone in south Buffalo, West Seneca, Orchard Park, Lackawanna, Blasdell, and a number of other suburbs it is the closest hospital there is. Furthering the problem, the NEXT closest hospitals are the afore-mentioned, already state-of-the-art ECMC and Millard-Filmore/Gates Circle Hospitals.

The emergency care section of Mercy was WOEFULLY inadequate. There were no separate rooms. The "emergency room" literally looked like it was once just a hallway and they decided to cram about 20 beds in there separated by hospital curtains. It was a joke. If you've ever watched a war movie involving a scene in one of those cliche makeshift war hospitals which is just a bunch of beds blocked off by curtains you can picture the scene. And this was the busiest emergency care center in all of Western New York.

So, nobody stepping up to say "hey wait a minute came from a combination of factors:
1) No other hospitals within the South Buffalo region.
2) A disgusting, under-equipped emergency care section
3) South Buffalo remains to this day tied VERY strongly to it's early Irish Catholic roots. I'd estimate around 75% of the people living in South Buffalo can trace their bloodline to Ireland and of that 75%, a good 80-90% are practicing Catholics. So, in the immediate area there was little-to-no resistance to a Catholic hospital receiving a large government grant. Anyone outside the South Buffalo area was easily fought off seeing as they had much closer access to the outstanding ECMC or MF/GC hospitals.

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