Godless in Chicago

Illinois cancels $1 million grant to Pilgrim Baptist Church

The State of Illinois has cancelled the Grant Agreement to donate 1,000,000 tax dollars to Pilgrim Baptist Church.  The money was intended to pay for part of the cost of rebuilding a church with a predominately African American congregation, located on the South Side of Chicago, after it was destroyed by a fire in January, 2006.  Ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich had promised the money to the church, a week after the fire, as a way to pander for Black votes during his campaign for re-election leading up to the March, 2006, Primary Election.


All that's left of Pilgrim Baptist Church, 3301 S. Indiana, Chicago, are the front and side walls, which are supported by scaffolding. Photo by Rob Sherman.

I filed suit in State Court to block the grant, just days after the Grant Agreement was signed, citing Article Ten, Section 3, of the Illinois Constitution, which unambiguously states, in pertinent part, "No grant of money shall ever be made by the State to any church."  Section 11-301 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (the body of State laws that governs how State courts operate) permits any citizen to file suit "to restrain and enjoin the disbursement of public funds by any officer or officers of the State government."

Handling the litigation for me was attorney Richard Whitney, the Green Party candidate for Illinois Governor in both the 2006 and the 2010 election.

Apologists for ex-Governor Blagojevich contended that the Grant Agreement provided that the money could only be used for secular functions of the church and that, therefore, the donation of tax dollars to the church was constitutional.

That's not, however, what the Constitution allows.  Besides that, while it's true that the Grant Agreement did limit the use of the money to secular purposes, the Grant Agreement limitation on the use of the money for secular purposes would only have applied until the Grant Agreement expired, which is on February 28, 2010, just four months from now.  After that date, the church could use the taxpayer-built facilities for anything that they wanted, including for religious purposes.  Since the rebuilding would not have been completed until after that date, the restriction to use the place for secular purposes never would have applied, which, of course, is exactly what the State and the Church had in mind.

Rod's people didn't reveal that part of the Grant Agreement.  I'm the one who did that.


The rear view of Pilgrim Baptist Church shows that it is nothing more than a forlorn, empty shell, kind of like what religion is, generally. Photo by Rob Sherman.

Pilgrim Baptist Church remains a decrepit blight on the community, with no prospect of it being rebuilt in the foreseeable future.  Indeed, it is a perfect metaphor for what heaven is:  Once you look past the phony fancy facade of pearly gates, you realize that there's nothing there.  No god, no people -- nothing.  It's completely empty, just like the above picture of Pilgrim Baptist.

They ought to tear down the remains of that building and let the community move on.

Here is a copy of the two-page letter from DCEO to Pilgrim Baptist that terminated the Grant Agreement:  PilgrimBaptistDCEOletter.pdf

The excuse that the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity used for cancelling the Grant was that there was insufficient money to fund the grant, but we know what the real reason was.

Shame on the Christians of Pilgrim Baptist for trying to steal our tax dollars from us.  It's not like they didn't know that they can't do that.  I spent many hours on the phone with leaders of that church, last year, explaining that what they were trying to do was illegal, but they didn't care.  They decided to go for the money, anyway.

I'm not surprised by their decision to try to perpetrate this crime against us.  After all, they're Christians.  They don't have the same high ethical standards that we atheists have.

Next time, I'll stop holding back and tell you how I really feel.

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.  Let me know if you think Christians should be sticking taxpayers with the cost of building or rebuilding their churches.

Send personal comments, comments unrelated to this story or notification of typos that you see in any of my posts to rob@robsherman.com.

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jackspatafora said:

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Well, another fine constitutional engagement by you and yours. But a question, please! As atheists -- individually or aggregately -- continue to challenge old traditions in the light of new perceptions, I'm curious as to the depth of the satisfaction that comes from such victories. Is it (1) the preservation of constitutional rights, as touted? (2) the defeat of outdated traditions, as implied? (3) the smell of victory?

If anyone reading this can answer this, I'd be interested. And then a codicil question: Once said wrongs have been removed, what do you provide in their place?

Spike said:

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jackspatafora asks … >

> Of course, as it should be.

> Another Con artist and con game has been defeated, YES.

> The Constitution won again and the smell is fantastic!

> That which is right, the law and the Constitution has been applied correctly which is what all Americans should be most interested and concerned with.

gr8hands said:


jackspatafora, I don't think that Rob (and most other atheists) is doing this because he's bored and has nothing else to do. Nor is he merely a contrarian, who gets his kicks being a cactus in the butt of the government and the religious. Nor is he desperate for attention any way he can get it, and the easiest is to be an atheist (or perhaps a Holocaust denier).

He's putting his life on the line (there are, unfortunately, too many examples of atheists and their families being targeted by 'christians' who feel threatened). Again, not on a whim or lark, but because he's passionate about this subject, and unwilling to merely grumble and mutter in the safety of his living room.

He deserves our thanks! We can all see how theocracies around the world treat their people. Rob is a kind of hero for this, because he's putting his life and finances on the line.

Rob Sherman said:


Brian Westley says:

Nice work on keeping the gov't out of financing churches.

gr8hands said:


Rob, kudos to you and Richard Whitney. This is a great victory. Take a moment to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

Unfortunately, there are so many other battles to be fought. This is particularly difficult when you have a U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Scalia) who is clear about putting his personal catholic religious view above all other views -- in clear violation of the Constitution.

But, every victory moves all of us forward. I'm proud of the work you're doing.

Rob Sherman said:


Carl H. Silverman says: ...but the DCEO letter doesn't reference any First Amendment or Illinois constitutional issues.
They didn't have the balls to do that, did they?

My reply: It's an old lawyer trick. Mention one reason and pretend that it's the only reason.

gr8hands said:


jackspatafora asks

Once said wrongs have been removed, what do you provide in their place?

Well, I can think of lots of other places to put $1 Million, so I don't think that's what you mean.

I don't think "in god we trust" on our currency should be replaced with anything. Likewise "under god" in the Pledge should not be replaced with anything. The taxpayer funded chaplains should also not be replaced with anything -- in terms of their opening prayers and religious services. (They should be replaced with trained counselors for their counseling services, you know, by people who are actually qualified by education and training rather than personal revelation from a non-existent deity.)

What should we replace government sponsored religious displays with? Nothing. What should we replace government preferences for faith based organizations with? How about with preferences for organizations that don't unconstitutionally evangelize any religious views.

What should we do with all the millions of taxes being diverted to faith based groups, in violation of the Constitution? Well, schools, libraries, animal shelters, lots of things come to mind.

jackspatafora, please note that Rob and the other atheists are not trying to outlaw religious beliefs, or the rights of the religious to assemble and worship. Knock yourselves out! Just don't do it on the taxpayer's dime, or with preferential treatment by the government, or by trampling on the rights of non-believers.

jackspatafora said:

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Spike and gr8hands -- I appreciate your thoughtful replies. Here are a few reactions:

* Rob is perhaps everything you say; certainly if effort and persistence count
* Cleansing the public square of religion may or may not be a valid and valuable service;I for one don't need my religion on display
* However, my recurring question -- one that Rob has never found an answer for me -- is once these LEGAL efforts sweep the square clean, what if anything ENNOBLING has been left in its place for humanity's deeper needs?? Man does not live by bread (or laws) alone, so what does the well-intentioned but antiseptically-rational atheist leave us to eat??

ckitching said:

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>Man does not live by bread (or laws) alone, so what does the well-intentioned but antiseptically-rational atheist leave us to eat??
We've got art, music, literature, science, self reflection, the entire world, and universe to explore, and this is still not enough for you? With all the richness of the natural, why would you even need the supernatural?

Schaumburg Dan said:



Jack - once the gods are not involved in the work of the state, people will still have their dreams, fantasies and mythological creatures. They can continue to believe what they like without having to trample anyone's rights.

Efrique said:

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When a cop stops someone from breaking a law, do you stop them and say "But what, if anything ENNOBLING have you left in place for humanity's deeper needs??" ?

Stopping crime means that there is less crime. I should think that is sufficiently ennobling without asking for more. What crimes have you prevented lately??

jackspatafora said:

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Several of you quite properly remind me we still have the ENNOBLING arts, myths, science and safe streets to look to. All true. But all secularly materialistic phenomena. The reason they estimate only about 5% of Westerners are affirmed atheists tells me the other 95% experience profound needs that lie deeper in our psyche and/or soul than even the finest secular and materialistic offerings can provide us. You dismiss this as "superstition," and yet you've had centuries to drive home the silver stake. Something bigger than your cause must be keeping the "superstition" alive. Does that ever make you doubt your cause? Not the often-obvious constitutional issues, but these deeper won't-go-away human needs? The only answer I usually hear from well-intentioned atheists is that "We know better." And yet, what honest atheist can fairly appropriate such a claim in the face of so many who reject it?

gr8hands said:


jackspatafora, you seem to forget the centuries where the superstitious leadership would kill/torture you if you dared to admit to atheism, agnosticism, or even belief in a different superstition than the leadership. Not content to merely rule with an iron fist in their own kingdoms, they went on Crusades to other countries to kill unbelievers.

Does that ever make you doubt your cause?

No, only the superstitious feel there is some god-shaped hole in our psyche (or the non-existent "soul") which only religion can fill. Those of us without it have no such inner longing. The religious only think there is such a gap because they have been beaten since childhood into believing there is one, constantly reinforcing the myth with song, propoganda, visual aids, stories, books, etc.

Since there is still a strong social stigma in the United States for being an avowed atheist, the number is lower than in societies where it's no big deal -- look for that to continue to rise (which is has been doing steadily in every poll).

jackspatafora, there are more dancers now than at any time in human history -- not due to religion (especially since there are religions that teach dancing is a sin). Clearly this is a deep passion in their very being. They dance because they have to dance. They know it is unlikely to be a well-paying career. Yet they still dance. They leave their families, move to big cities, suffer grueling training programs and humiliating auditions -- to dance. Nothing religious about it.

I can go on and on with example after example.

Theists always claim that not only does god exist, but they know god's opinions, which are always beyond argument. What honest theist can fairly appropriate such a claim in the face of so many who reject it? And in spite of not a shred of evidence to support it?

Religion is on the way out. Good riddance!

gr8hands said:


jackspatafora, people only keep their religion with almost constant repetition, constant reinforcement, threats ("we'll disown you if you leave the faith"), constant intimidation, etc.

Atheists don't need that. The truth is not so fragile that it has to be repeated again and again, learned by rote. It will be there tomorrow, and the day after that. Atheists don't need special songs, or to gather on a special day in a special place to keep their unbelief going.

That should tell you something about the relative truth of your religion. Recall that the worshippers of Zeus were many, but all are now gone. And every other deity, given time and rationality. Your deity will also pass back into the superstition whence he was spawned. History (and truth) is on our side.

jackspatafora said:

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gr8hands, Some thoughts:

* The errors of religious people (ie.torture) in no way negates the religious system they are so poorly representing. Anymore than Cutler throwing interceptions negates the system of the pass

* Theists often do insist they have the truth. Not being a southern Bible Belter, I harbor no such delusion. Theists like atheists have -- and should have -- enormous doubts which then motivate further study

* Zeus and other gods have indeed vanished. But not the belief in a god. Why? Well "rationality" alone is not the way to address the question. Read Karen Armstrong's new book in which she explains the profound difference between logos & mythos. Just as you cannot by reason alone explain your love of a parent or spouse, neither can reason alone explain the need and love of a god. Dawkins etc like to say "well, that's just the compulsion of our genes." Yes, I suppose he's right IF he wishes to presume we are just like every other primate on the planet. But I believe (and I suspect you believe) we are more than our genes. More than our matter. Even more than our reason. That's why when you sit out alone on a quiet autumn night in the countryside and look at the vast universe, you sense an "otherness" out there besides yourself. That "otherness" is what we call God; then we use our reason to examine the feeling

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