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January 10, 2006

Ignorance? Or cheap grandstanding?

Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich was way off base this week when he promised to come up with $1 million in state funds to help rebuild the Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago after a devastating fire.

His vow makes you wonder whether the Illinois governor has ever read the Illinois Constitution. Here's Article X, Section 3:


Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town,
township, school district, or other public corporation, shall
ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund
whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose,
or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary,
college, university, or other literary or scientific
institution, controlled by any church or sectarian
denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of
land, money, or other personal property ever be made by the
State, or any such public corporation, to any church, or for
any sectarian purpose."

The governor's dash in front of the cameras to make the pledge leaves this question: Is he ignorant of the Constitution or just scoring cheap political points. Not much virtue either way.

Pilgrim Baptist has a long and fine history, and the fire was a tragedy. Neither fact justifies the gov's promise.

In any case, the pledge of state money is unnecessary, even if the church had no insurance, which I assume it does. Private assistance for rebuilding is pouring in: The Pritzker Family Foundation has pledged a half million dollars. Other pledges are sure to come.

For anyone who wants to help, there's a "Pilgrim Baptist Church Rebuilding Fund." Send donations c/o Amalgamated Bank, 1 W. Monroe St., Chicago, IL 60603. Telephone (312) 822-3000 or (800) 365-6464.

Where to send Blago is the more perplexing puzzle.

Posted by jcb at January 10, 2006 03:39 PM


Great catch John... pretty stark when you provide the language of the relevant section of the constitution. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as anyone making an objection would seem to have an airtight case.

I would never have thought of the church/state issue here at first blush, though it's apparent that before the church had stopped smoking, Blago got to this fire in order to score political points. I'm sure his advisors were giddy as schoolgirls over the chance to score big with African Americans in the city.

This is truly Christmastime for Blago, and he'll be running around the state stategically giving out more millions than you can count as the election nears. Can the state afford it? Hush, they'll worry about that later.

Posted by: TID at January 11, 2006 11:45 AM

Personally, I can't get too exercised about the church/state separation concerning state funds going toward the rehab of this church. After all, a strong case could be made that this is not just a "church" but a historic site.

Since we already know that liberal Democrats want the government involved in everything, I gotta agree with jcb's conclusion that anytime we can get the private sector involved (including things like stem cell research) and willing to pay the bill, why use taxpayer moolah?

Posted by: paladin at January 11, 2006 02:54 PM

What about the 150-year-old Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Geneseo that was recently damaged by an arson fire? I didn't see the governor offering to help those folks. Why not, do you suppose?

Posted by: Vita at January 12, 2006 11:41 AM

Cheap grandstanding? An Illinois politician? You must be kidding.

Posted by: romkey at January 12, 2006 11:48 AM

I suppose he could pony up $1 million from his campaign coffers rather than find the money in a cash-strapped state budget.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 12, 2006 05:21 PM

I wondered to myself whether or not the church had insurance. According to a registration-required page on the Trib's website they were under-insured:

Robert Vaughn, chairman of Pilgrim's board of trustees, said the church's insurance "is not enough" to cover what it would take to put up a new Sullivan-like building--with its terra cotta designs and soaring vaulted ceilings.

It appears as though a renovator's torch caused the fire. Between any settlement with them and the insurance you'd think the church would be OK fiscally. Blago is grandstanding and I don't understand exactly why since he should not have any trouble running for re-election in Cook County. The church in Geneseo would be a better political investment. And neither should be rebuilt with taxpayer money.

A little peripheral, but NPR did a good piece on the church, its history and its influence on gospel music on yesterday's ATC

Posted by: t at January 13, 2006 08:06 AM