Past Event

Café Society: Public Funds for Religious Institutions?

Earlier this month many of us watched the news footage of the Pilgrim Baptist Church in flames. Located in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago and known as the birthplace of gospel music, this 115 year- old landmark has tremendous value for both its patrons and for the nation. In the aftermath of this great tragedy, Governor Rod Blagojevich pledged $1 million from state capital funds to help in the efforts to rebuild.

In announcing the funds for this landmark building designed by the famous architectural firm headed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, Blagojevich stated, “This investment is much bigger than just rebuilding a church.” However, some critics have cried foul over this allocation of public funds for exactly that reason. They see the contribution as a violation of the separation of church and state, and point out that with budgets tightening across the board, there are many functional, and secular, causes that desperately need this money. They accuse the Governor of pandering to the African-American community in Chicago and feel he is ignoring the best interests of the state of Illinois.

Is this gesture in a time of crisis a genuine offer of help, or a cynical political ploy? Does the separation of church and state necessarily preclude any government aid to a house of worship, regardless of the historical background that may lay behind it? Is there a distinction to be made between using state funds to aid a religious organization, and using them to restore a cultural icon that happens to be religious in nature? By denying the central role that this landmark has played in the Bronzeville community, couldn’t the actions of the critics’ themselves be construed as discriminatory?

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For more informaiton, please contact Kristin Millikan at 312.422.5580.