AU Protests $40 Million In ‘Faith-Based’ Grants In Illinois

Attorneys with Americans United have warned legislators in Illinois that their plan to distribute millions of dollars in state funds to religious organizations is constitutionally problematic.


In an Aug. 19 letter to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Americans United insisted that the Constitution clearly forbids the use of public funds to subsidize religion.


Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed an infrastructure-improvement bill allocating $40 million in grants to at least 97 religious organizations within the state. The bill fails to place any restrictions on these organizations’ use of the funds.


“We ask that you review all of the grants to recipients identified on the attached list, as well as any other grants slated for religious organizations, to ensure constitutional compliance,” AU’s letter insisted. “Pervasively sectarian organizations should be denied the funds altogether, and for all other organizations, restrictions and safeguards must be put in place to prevent state funds from being used to advance religion.”


AU asked that the state take three steps to avoid church-state entanglement: Stipulate that the funds not be used to support religious activity, put regulations and monitoring in place to ensure that the grants are used exclusively for secular purposes and refrain from making direct cash payments to pervasively sectarian organizations.


The government-sponsored giveaway to religion is especially ironic in Illinois. The state’s constitution guarantees that no one “shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship against his consent” and states that “public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.” Another section bars public funds for sectarian purposes.


Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said he is deeply troubled by the constitutional implications of the Illinois grants.


“Government is forbidden by the Constitution to fund religion,” said Lynn. “When grants are made to religious groups with no safeguards whatsoever, the rights of taxpayers are clearly being infringed.


“No American should ever be forced to contribute money in support of religion,” Lynn continued. “The state of Illinois needs to move swiftly to ensure that public funds are not being misused for religious purposes.”


The Chicago Tribune reported that the bill earmarks $250,000 for renovations to the Friendship House of Christian Service in Peoria, awards $150,000 for “facility improvements” at the Salaam Conference Center of Muhammad’s Holy Temple of Islam in Chicago and assigns $700,000 for capital improvements at St. Malachy School, a Catholic elementary on Chicago’s West Side, among many others.


Americans United’s protest to Illinois state officials was joined by the Anti-Defamation League. The letter was drafted by AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.