The Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran decision allowed for churches to apply for taxpayer-funded grants as long as it was for a secular reason. But a church in Chicago is under fire after receiving more than $220,000 to advance its religious agenda.
Commission OKs a $228,000 grant from the Adopt-a-Landmark fund for the First Church of Deliverance, 4315 S. Wabash. The project will restore the church’s terra cotta facade and interior murals and doors. pic.twitter.com/ap7fB0vqmk
— Chicago DPD (@ChicagoDPD) January 11, 2018
According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the First Church of Deliverance got the money from the city’s Adopt-a-Landmark program which gives money to historical buildings for things like maintenance, but the application itself made clear the goal was to advance the church’s religious outreach.
… The church explained that the renovations will attract visitors to the church, many of whom the church expects will “remain and become part of the body because they find solace, services and support vital for spiritual and natural growth.”
The church received the funds not just for external restoration, but also internal work, including two painted murals displaying religious iconography. The church’s application emphasized multiple other ways the grant money would expand its services, including an after-school tutoring ministry.
Why are taxpayers funding a church’s goal to spread Christianity? That’s what FFRF attorney Ryan Jayne wants to know:
“The $228,000 grant to the First Church of Deliverance violates both the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne in his letter to Commissioner David L. Reifman. “The [Department of Planning and Development] must withhold any taxpayer funds not already given to the church. The DPD should amend its policies to ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future.”
“It is completely inappropriate for a taxpayer-funded grant to be used to underwrite a church’s religious mission,” says FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “It is a violation of Illinois taxpayers’ federally and state-protected rights of conscience.”
You can see from that wording that FFRF isn’t saying the award should be rescinded retroactively. It’s too late and too difficult to undo the damage. But it’s not too late to correct the mistake before it happens again.