Chicago Churches Demand Free Water

After losing more than $20 million by giving water to churches and other non-profits for free, the cash-strapped city of Chicago decided this year to charge them for 40% of the water they use, which everyone else has to pay. And the churches are threatening to take their ball and go home:

Addressing two dozen religious leaders at an annual retreat this week, Emanuel said he would take into account a recent letter to the city’s 50 aldermen cautioning that the water fee program poses a dire threat to churches and the social programs they offer in their communities, the mayor’s aides said. That letter, signed by 46 leaders including Cardinal Francis George, argued that the water fee is a shortsighted effort to generate revenue that could backfire in the long run.

“Already, discussions are under way within some churches, synagogues, mosques and temples about reducing or eliminating donated space for the (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) program, (as well as) time that gyms and community centers are open at night for neighborhood children,” the letter stated. “The cost of replacing these sites and programs with city-funded ones would be very costly, and our argument is that this possibility can be avoided altogether!”…

“We’re not asking for charity. We’re just looking for a reasonable accommodation,” said Elder Kevin Anthony Ford of St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries. “We in no way dare say we’re retaliating. We’re just unable to provide those services — and that would be disastrous to the city of Chicago.”

So they already don’t pay any taxes to the city, which costs the city probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue (I don’t have Chicago stats specifically, but a study in New York City found that the property tax exemption there cost the city $600 million a year), but they still want for free what every other individual and business in the city has to pay for. And if they don’t get that, they’re going to stop providing “services.”

Look, I don’t think anyone begrudges this kind of thing for the small church that runs a soup kitchen. But when the head of the Chicago diocese of the fabulously rich Catholic Church is complaining about not getting enough freebies? Yeah, give me a break. Everyone else not only has to pay for this, they have to pay more for it because the city is giving away $20 million to the churches every year and not getting any tax revenue from them at all. Maybe the Pope should sell a painting or one of his golden rings.

32 comments on this post.
  1. richardelguru:

    They should pay taxes on everything that isn’t direct charitable work. And they should have to prove that it is.
    Why the hell should we give a form of entertainment a tax break?

  2. Reginald Selkirk:

    “We’re not asking for charity…”

    They don’t want charity, they want stuff for free. How could you confuse the two?

  3. Michael Heath:

    Ed writes:

    Maybe the Pope should sell a painting or one of his golden rings.

    Mr. Ratzinger’s shoe collection is what first came to mind for me.

  4. frankniddy:

    This is a group that actually is looking for free stuff from the government.

  5. jaranath:

    I wish the general public could recognize that not only is this extortion, it technically digs their hole deeper by highlighting the encroachment of religious entities into government functions. “Nice CAPS and gyms and community centers ya got there…shame if somethin’ happened to ‘em.” Yeah…and why are YOU in charge of those services again?

  6. Who Knows?:

    Why don’t they pray for water?

  7. carlie:

    Why on earth do they get free water? Is that common? I’ve never heard of churches getting free utilities.

  8. bbgunn:

    Maybe their guys who changes water into wine can turn sour grapes into water.

  9. RH:

    New plan:
    Churches & Charities pay 100% of their water bill.
    City takes an extremely strict stance on monitoring church activities and revoking tax exempt statuses.
    City uses that money for programs that are not religiously affiliated.

    Honestly the response to this should be fine… in that case pay your whole water bill.

  10. bbgunn:

    Their ‘guy,’ not ‘guys.’

  11. tassilo:

    Funny, this seems to be a pattern. I heard last week that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem owes about $2.3 million in unpaid water bills. Israel and Jerusalem have now agreed to pick up the tab. After all, that church has a lot of PR value and brings in tourists. I doubt you can say that for Chicago churches.

  12. Modusoperandi:

    And you know they’re just gonna turn it into wine.

  13. Gregory in Seattle:

    The rationale behind the tax exemptions is that they provide services. If they fail to do so, then they lose the tax exemptions.

  14. Artor:

    ““We in no way dare say we’re retaliating. That’s exactly what we’re doing, but we in no way dare say it. Because then, people who haven’t been paying attention would see what kind of amoral shitheads we are.”

  15. blorf:

    @modusoperandi: They already have turned it into whine…

  16. Crip Dyke, MQ, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden:

    Look, they had enough money that they thought a great idea was taking adults who pissed off parents by molesting little kids…and sending them to somewhere that the parents weren’t pissed off because they didn’t know anything. Which of course meant that the adults were then free to molest without suspicion again.

    They knew that you can be sued if your organization supports through negligence or intentional action any harm to another. But they had money and they didn’t think the risks were all that big – to the church – after all. The fact that the church has money to play fast and loose with molestation but no money for the water they use is one of the most horrifically insulting things I’ve ever heard.

  17. steve84:

    Churches are nothing but parasites

  18. Area Man:

    “We in no way dare say we’re retaliating. We’re just unable to provide those services — and that would be disastrous to the city of Chicago.”

    Yeah, right.

    The City of Chicago should simply call their bluff. Even if it turns out that the churches reduce their charitable works by a dollar amount equal to the extra they pay for water, the City is no worse off. The City could always donate that money back to charity. And more of it would likely go to people in need if it’s not first filtered through the lavish brokerage of the church.

  19. jnorris:

    Mayor Emanuel must not have been paying attention to Republican candidate Romney’s explanation of why he lost to Pres Obama: Democrats give free stuff to voting blocks. If Mayor Emanuel refuses to give free water to the Catholic Church and other sects & cults, the cardinals and bishops will not vote for him or the Democrats (like they ever did).

  20. weaver:

    “We’re not asking for charity. We’re just looking for a reasonable accommodation,” said Elder Kevin Anthony Ford.

    You are asking to be given for free what others have to pay for. That is asking for charity.

    Reasonable accommodation was what was offered – 40% of the cost instead of full price.

  21. baal:

    Everyone else not only has to pay for this, they have to pay more for it because the city is giving away $20 million to the churches every year and not getting any tax revenue from them at all

    I wonder if someone could run an anti- ‘church tax’ campaign. It’d highlight how much your personal taxes have to go up to pay for the support and services the government supplies to the churches. I wonder is all those right wing ‘tax party’ and grove norquist types would get on board.

    As to the Pontiff giving something up to pay for things, I suggest his boy toy personal assistant Georg Gaenswein.

  22. Raging Bee:

    Why can’t they just ask their own parishoners to make their own contributions to pay for the water? Or, if the poor in Chicago need water, can’t they get it for free at a soup kitchen or shelter?

    If the city wants to give free water to the needy, they can (and should) do it without any private religious organization acting as a middleman.

    As for the tax exemption for churches, I’m sure that’s a HUGE bite for land in downtown Chicago. If parking fees alone are any indication (I’ve paid upwad of $20 for less than two hours), you could replace a large downtown church with a public car park, and get a sizable cut for the city by taxing revenues from the car park.

  23. Raging Bee:

    “We’re not asking for charity…”

    No, they’re demanding it. Did someone say “culture of entitlement?”

  24. democommie:

    Boy, I’ll bet Cardinal George’s ass is really chapped that he’s got that jewboy mayor to deal with instead of one of the Daley’s–those fuckin’ mackerelsnappin’micks* woulda shit themselves if he threatened to excommunicate them–Rahm will laugh at the notion.

    * Before anybody gets all aflutter. My great-grandfathers, both from Eire.

  25. d.c.wilson:

    Can’t they just pray for rain?

  26. freemage:

    While I enjoy a good RCC-bash as much as anyone, this is actually much more about the little storefront churches that dot the heavily black South and West-side neighborhoods in the city. They usually have little or no connection to a larger organization, and generally rise and fall with a charismatic leader.

    This isn’t to say they aren’t also fleecing their flock and sponging off the taspayers–but most of these churches don’t have the same issues with criminal cover-ups that the more ‘established’ churches do.

  27. davem:

    (as well as) time that gyms and community centers are open at night

    Churches operate gyms? Why? My next thought is ‘what exactly are churches doing with 20M worth of water? The churches in my part of the world probably have domestic house sized water bills. …unless their font runneth over…

  28. jasmyn:

    So will the right start calling these church leaders “welfare queens?”

  29. gmoney:

    @21 baal

    I wonder if someone could run an anti- ‘church tax’ campaign. It’d highlight how much your personal taxes have to go up to pay for the support and services the government supplies to the churches. I wonder is all those right wing ‘tax party’ and grove norquist types would get on board.

    Some fast math: Ed’s number for NYC property tax ~$600 million/~8 million population of NYC = $75 per person

    Freedom from religion?

  30. leftwingfox:

    All the more reason that voluntary charity is a piss-poor substitute for universal welfare.

  31. Pierce R. Butler:

    Face it, Elder Kevin Anthony Ford of St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries – Chicago America just isn’t good enough to deserve you.

    Time to get your buddies together, pack up and go find someplace which really appreciates your specialness.

  32. Pierce R. Butler:

    Oops @ my # 31 – apparently the new software here doesn’t recognize [strikethrough] HTML tags – even when applied to Chicago.

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