Foundation Protests Payment To City Chaplain (November 1994)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is charging that the practice of paying a chaplain $50 per prayer to open city council meetings in North Chicago is unconstitutional.

It joined the criticism of North Chicago Mayor Bobby Thompson for paying a Baptist minister $100 a month for two one-minute prayers, originally protested by 5th Ward Ald. Bette Thomas, who suggested the mayor should be picking up the tab himself, rather than wasting taxpayer money.

But the Foundation protested any formalized city prayers, paid or not. It pointed out that Article 1, Sec. 3 of the Illinois Constitution reads: “No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship against his consent, nor shall any preference be given by law to any religious denomination or mode of worship.”

City money is paying for a ministry and turning city council meetings into a “place of worship,” the Foundation averred.

In case Thompson was not impressed by the secular injunctions, the group reminded him that the Jesus of the New Testament called those who pray publicly “hypocrites,” enjoining worshippers to pray in their closets in secret (Matt. 6:5-6).

The Foundation’s challenge was reported in banner front-page headlines on September 30 in The News-Sun, the Lake County newspaper covering Waukegan and North Chicago.

In a follow-up story by Ralph Zahorik, it was reported that “a half-dozen Baptist preachers” came to the defense of city-paid prayers, “sharply rebuking” Ald. Thomas, and “blasting” the Foundation.

Rev. C. L. Fairchild, pastor of the Greater Faith Baptist Church in Waukegan, was quoted saying:

“We are very disturbed over the fact that this outside group is coming in and misinterpreting and misquoting the bible. We can’t stand by while our faith is being attacked.”

The Rev. J.H. Cook of Gideon Baptist Church in Waukegan demanded to know why the Foundation is not attacking a religious observance in the public schools by satanists–otherwise known as Halloween.

Another News-Sun article, quoting Mayor Bobby Thompson, revealed that the entanglement is worse than payment for bi-weekly prayers. Thompson revealed that the city is paying Rev. Percy Johnson to serve as “city chaplain,” saying he is “on call” 24 hours a day to counsel.

“The designation of a minister as ‘city chaplain’ is illegal,” maintains Foundation investigator Annie Laurie Gaylor, “and is creating a very bad precedent. Furthermore, it is obvious by the response of area Baptist ministers, that they regard this designation of Johnson as ‘city chaplain’ as city preference for their denomination–totally unacceptable.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation