Carpenter’s Place cares for the homeless because of Jesus’ message, but it doesn’t force its guests to listen to that message. So state officials believe grants to that organization and three others with religious connections don’t violate restrictions on funding religion. Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to state officials warning that grants to 97 organizations in the recently passed capital plan may violate such rules.
Carpenter’s Place cares for the homeless because of Jesus’ message, but it doesn’t force its guests to listen to that message.
So state officials believe grants to that organization and three others with religious connections don’t violate restrictions on funding religion.
Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to state officials warning that grants to 97 organizations in the recently passed capital plan may violate such rules.
They listed Carpenter’s Place, Rockford Rescue Mission, Rosecrance and St. Elizabeth Catholic Community Center in Rockford, which stand to get a total of $600,000.
But officials don’t think those local grants are in jeopardy. They say the state has funded such programs before, and has not violated the law in doing so.
“If the program has a positive impact on constituents or the community, then they should be ... funded,” said Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford. ”We’re not talking about funding a church. Money is not being used for ... missionary work to convert people to a particular faith.”
He said the grants are important because they help fund groups the state can’t afford.
Carpenter’s Place is getting $150,000 to improve its day center for homeless adults. The founders’ Christian faith was the reason they started the organization, and daily devotionals are provided if guests want them, said Executive Director Kay Larrick.
“The reason that we’re able to take government funding is that we don’t require any participation in any kind of devotions or religious activities,” Larrick said.
Guests don’t have to do anything or believe in anything to be served.
Rosecrance is getting $250,000 toward its Rockford Men’s Recovery Home to help those dealing with addictions. The organization has a loose connection to the Methodist Church, which has provided donations and volunteers and has one seat on Rosecrance’s 22-member board.
“They have a very strong belief in the purpose of treatment and the hope of recovery in helping people with addiction issues,” spokeswoman Susan Rice said. “The only religious language here is that which is supported by the 12-step programs,” which don’t identify with a specific faith.
The organizations questioning the grants didn’t say they should all be denied. Instead, they called for a strict review of each grant to make sure they don’t violate the U.S. Constitution by helping religious activities.
“Pervasively sectarian organizations should be denied the funds altogether, and for all other organizations, restrictions and safeguards must be put in place to prevent state funds from being used to advance religion,” the letter states.
All the grants in the capital plan were already scheduled for individual review to make sure they met all laws and policies, said Annie Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
“We take our responsibility to ensure taxpayer money is being spent in an appropriate manner very seriously,” she said. “That process will reveal much more specific information about the proposed projects, which will allow DCEO to evaluate each one on a case-by-case basis.”
Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, thinks that since the organizations don’t force religion on their clients, it’s appropriate to help them.
“We need to be doing everything that we can to support the people that have fallen upon hard times,” he said. “(These organizations) do great work in the community, and I just feel those dollars are well used.”
Thomas V. Bona can be reached (815) 987-1343 or firstname.lastname@example.org.