Godless in Chicago

Christian theater group asks Itasca for $450,000 grant

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Reba Hervas, president of Overshadowed Productions. Photo from the theater company's web site, www.overshadowed productions.com.

Overshadowed Productions, a Christian missionary theater production company, has asked for a grant of $450,000 from the Village of Itasca, a suburb of Chicago located three miles west of O'Hare International Airport in Dupage County, on the east side of Interstate 290 at Thorndale Avenue.

At this week's Itasca Village Board meeting, Overshadowed president Reba Hervas, who attended Bob Jones University and who is the wife of Itasca Village Attorney Charles Hervas, asked that her Christian ministry be given the tax dollars to assist them with the cost of purchasing a permanent home in the village.

According to their web site, Overshadowed's purpose is "to point the way to Christ" and their mission is to provide "drama that is overshadowed by the truth and power of God and His Word, the Bible."

The money Mrs. Hervas requested would come from taxes that the Village has collected from guests staying in Itasca hotels.  The hotel tax money, however, is intended to be used to promote tourism, not Christianity, in Itasca.

This raises the question of state/church separation, and whether using tax dollars for this purpose is constitutional.

The Illinois Constitution, at Article I, Section 3, states, in pertinent part, that "no person shall be required to support any ministry against his consent, nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination."

At Article X, Section 3, the Illinois Constitution states, in pertinent part, that "Neither the General Assembly nor any [municipality] shall ever pay from any public fund, anything in aid of any sectarian purpose; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property ever be made by the State, or any such public corporation, for any sectarian purpose."

The Code of Civil Procedure is the body of State laws that governs how civil court operates  (as contrasted with the Code of Criminal Procedure, which governs criminal court.)  Article XI of the Code is entitled, "Injunction."  Part 3 of Article XI is entitled, "Disbursement of Public Moneys."  Section 11-301 of Part 3 is the law that allows citizens like me to challenge and stop unconstitutional expenditures of public funds in Illinois.  This law, cited as 735 ILCS 5/11-301, is the law that I successfully used to stop Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago from getting the million tax dollars that ex-Governor Blagojevich had promised them.  This law states, in pertinent part:

"An action to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public funds by any officer or officers of the State government may be maintained either by the Attorney General or by any citizen and taxpayer of the State."

Section 11-303 of Part 3 then describes the procedure that a private citizen shall use to sue in court to stop the unconstitutional expenditure.

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Charles Hervas Photo from the web site of his law firm, Hervas Condon & Bersani www.hcb attorneys.com.

I spoke with Charles Hervas, who not only is Reba's husband and the Village Attorney, but who is also on the Board of Directors of Overshadowed Productions.  Mr. Hervas assured me that the theater company was aware of, sensitive to and supportive of the issue of state/church separation.  He said that the $450,000 grant request was in response to a specific "wish list" question from one of the Village Trustees, who asked what the theater would like to have as an incentive for staying in town.  The theater currently operates out of a church in Itasca and is looking for permanent and larger quarters.

Mr. Hervas said that, if any money at all is used from the hotel tax fund, it is far more likely that the money would be spent only to encourage theater patrons to patronize the restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the Village.  He and I agreed that that certainly would be a legitimate constitutional purpose for the use of the Village's hotel tax fund.

However, Mr. Hervas stated that there still is substantial uncertainty as to whether the Village Board will do anything regarding Overshadowed.

Also, today, I spoke with Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn (pronounced "Prine").  I explained to Mayor Pruyn the constitutional and legal concepts outlined above, and offered to make a similar presentation at a future meeting of the Village Board should the Mayor feel that such a presentation would be helpful and desireable.  Like Mr. Hervas, Mr. Pruyn was pleasant and cooperative.  He made it clear that he and the Village were interested in doing the right thing, legally and constitutionally.  The issues were, first, figuring out what the things are that it is permissible for the Village to do, and which of those permissible things, are things that the Village Board would like to choose to do.     

Still, it bears watching, and I'm just the guy to do that, so stay tuned.

Please leave a comment, below, to let me know what you think, and tell your friends about this through your social media networks and word of mouth.

I look forward to your comments on this one.  Would you want the money that you paid as a room tax at a hotel to end up being used to promote Christianity?

Send personal comments, comments unrelated to this story or notification of typos that you see in any of my posts to rob@robsherman.com.  Also, if you have trouble posting a comment directly to Godless in Chicago, e-mail it to me and I'll post it for you.

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5 Comments

gr8hands said:

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No, I would definitely not want the money I pay as a room tax at a hotel to end up being used to promote christianity or any other religion.

Schaumburg Dan said:

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Not only are their donations tax exempt - they want to take more from the taxpayers.

gotheater said:

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I guess the almost 6000 patrons per year that come to Itasca to see the productions aren't considered tourists and don't benefit the community?

Schaumburg Dan said:

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With 6000 customers, they shouldn't need to take taxpayer money, unless their business model relies more on faith than register receipts.

AtheistAtLARGE said:

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This kind of activity of theists is most likely all over the country, however no ones watching ... except Rob

Theists are constantly trying to get a wedge in any governing body in the country. ITS ILLEGAL and laws need to be made to make sure that those in government positions that try and inact such grievous acts are removed from their positions.

Hatch along with Kerry and late Sen T. Kennedy recently put in the Health care bill a little something extra. The addition is to have PRAYERS billable to the insurance company. Hatch a lunitic mormon and his friends are trying to leverage support from the Mass. based Christian Science Foundation. The addition directly links the religious organization that spews the some of the most rediculous notions that supernatural events will cure people through prayer.

Read about it here http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-na-health-religion3-2009nov03,0,6879249,full.story

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