CHURCH AND STATE
“Hey, good morning, your Holiness. Pour me a cup, will you?"
“Turning to see Josh Green amble into the room, the man dressed in black reaches
for a clean cup.
“Shalom, my friend. Black with sugar, right? No offense, 'Sheckles', but you look a
little rough around the edges. Not used to this hour?”
“Hour! … hour! … what hour, Bob?” Josh asks, good natured exasperation in his
voice and a twinkle in his eye. “Five a.m. isn’t an hour; it’s a penance. Bless me
Father for I have sinned.”
“Hey, monks get up at three or four every day.”
“Yea, right. Let me guess, they’re trying to get purgatory out of the way early.”
Handing his friend his coffee, Father Bob chuckles and shakes his head. “Penance,
“Yea, that’s one good thing about being a rabbi, no 6 a.m. morning mass.”
“Ahhh, it’s not that bad. You get used to it after a while.”
Rabbi Green winks at his friend. “Yea, Bob, but I’ve gotten used to the morning
paper and my wake up coffee at eight.”
Hi, I’m Tony Baggz. Welcome to the neighborhood. Dawn is
breaking here on the South Side; a beautiful October morning promising
to be sunny, warm and dry. Perfect for today’s festivities.
We’re in the meeting room at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. Nine people are
gathered around a table set with coffee and pastries and all by one are
church leaders. Let’s see, there’s Temple Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Joshua
Green, known to his friends as 'Sheckles'. Then there's St. Mark’s
Episcopal’s rector, Mike Daniels, Reverend Paul Jacobson of First
Presbyterian, St. Katherine’s Father Bob Scanlon, Christ the Redeemer
Lutheran’s Pastor John Randall, Liberty Street Assembly of God’s
Pastor Billy Swanson, Mt. Nebo Baptist Assembly’s Pastor Martin
Williams, the Reverend Dave Walsh of First United Methodist and Dr.
Norm Rogers, Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University Medical
Center. They’re the driving force behind today’s activities.
You see, it’s the first morning of the Interfaith Council of Churches’
semi-annual yard sale. A three day event, it’s become a tradition here.
It started as an effort between two Catholic churches and a
synagogue to help the less fortunate with medical expenses. Now a joint
effort with the University Medical Center, it has grown to include over
twenty churches and synagogues, and in ten years it’s raised over eight
million dollars. A lot of people look forward to this day … a lot of people
need it …
In a few hours the place will be jumpin’. You see, this ain’t your
Grandma’s yard sale. You can find anything here … sky’s the limit …
furs, appliances, jewelry, antiques, furniture, all sorts of collectibles, toys,
clothes, knick knacks, art, used cars … and even houses. And now with
rides and games for the kids, it’s taken on the air of a carnival. And the
food; it’s a smorgasbord of the best the city offers. Osso bucco to
burritos and everything in between. You name it, it’s all here, and it’s all
Everyone pitches in; churches, schools, civic groups, restaurants,
car dealers, local artists, musicians, businesses both large and small, and
even the pro football team. The O’Grady family has owned the “Boys in
Black” for years and they can’t do enough to help this effort. The city
lets the vendors use the parks, the streets, and parking facilities and
provides an array of services. And for the folks gathered around the table,
therein lies a problem.
Reverend Daniels blows the steam off his coffee and walks over to the
“Hey Martin, got a minute …”
This ought to be interesting. Let’s listen in …
“Sure Mike, what’s up?”
“Haven’t talked to you in a while. What’s the latest on Gaffner’s lawsuit?”
“Well, as of Wednesday, it’s on the docket for mid-November. He claims the
event violates the First Amendment. And he’s rounded up the usual suspects.”
Looking up from the pastry table, a wary look ambles across John Randall’s face.
Wary turns to disgust, and I don’t think it’s the coffee.
Chuckling at the look on John's face, Reverend Williams continues.
“Anyway, Nate Kramer and Judge Zaleski are working on it. Nate’s dealt with this
kind of thing twice before and the judge has handled a few similar cases himself.”
Picking up a cherry danish, Billy Swanson joins the conversation.
“I’m confused, exactly what is Gaffner’s complaint? I mean it’s not like we’re
nailing the Ten Commandments to the courthouse door.”
“No, we're not, Billy. But his argument isn’t a religious one, it’s economic.”
“How? We pay the city all the required licenses and fees. Where’s his problem?”
“Well, Gaffner claims we’re a commercial activity masquerading as a religious
event. He says the city loses tax revenue because regular business is interrupted, sales
taxes aren’t collected on the raffles and donations, and the city isn’t compensated for
the use of city services, streets, utilities, police, that sort of thing. Economic
intangibles, he calls them."
A mischievous look crosses Reverend Williams face. Sipping his coffee and
winking at Billy Swanson, he looks in John Randall's direction. “You want to hear
something really rich, Billy, get this; he’s gone as far as claiming that Brownie Troop
25’s lemonade and jellybean stand violates code for failing to collect state and city
sales tax. He says they’re no different than any restaurant.”
The sound of someone choking startles the group. Everyone turns to see the
Lutheran minister with coffee running down his shirt.
“Don’t drown, John,” says Dave Walsh, laughing at the sight.
“Yea, throw me a life preserver, will ya? For heaven’s sake, my little Jennifer’s in
A devilish grin crosses Doc Rogers face. “At least that orange prison jumpsuit will
go good with her freckles, John. Who knows, maybe you can sneak a hacksaw into
her next birthday cake.” He pauses a moment. “Tell me, does she have an accounting
“Sure, Doc, it’s right between the ones for jacks and double dutch. C’mon, she’s six
for heaven’s sake.”
The levity of the moment lightens the mood. Father Bob smiles to himself and sets
down his coffee cup. “Look, it’s simple," he says. "It’s an end run; a Trojan horse, if
you will. The guy simply detests religion."
"And this is his way of attacking it?" Reverend Walsh asks, muted disgust in his
Reverend Daniels nods in agreement. “Exactly. But what I don’t get is this; do
people like him understand the hit his wallet would take if churches couldn’t do what
"Or stopped doing what we do," Reverend Jacobson says softly.
“Sure he does, Mike, Dave Allen says. "Gaffner’s an intelligent man; he just
chooses to ignore it."
“Okay, but even so, how can he ignore the benefits society realizes from just the
cost of education alone? Every kid in a parochial school saves the taxpayers, what,
about eight, nine grand a year, or more? In the city and county there are eleven
Catholic schools, and seven run by other churches. We’re talking over 8000 kids.
That’s about seventy million dollars. And that’s not counting the home-schooled kids
supported by various churches. There’s probably another thousand or so there. And
that’s just education. How about food, clothing, and medical care? Martin’s church
runs a food pantry program that’s the model for the area, and we all have some sort of
outreach beyond the Thanksgiving and Christmas programs. Now, add in everything
else, counseling, legal assistance, monetary assistance to seniors on fixed incomes to
help pay utility bills or medicines, “intangibles” as Gaffner calls them, and I’d bet the
combined efforts save the taxpayers another five million, at least. Do guys like
Gaffner understand that? Sure they do. Do they care, no, of course they don’t. The
only thing people like him care about is their own self-righteous indignation.”
“Well, I’ve learned never to underestimate the power of stupid people in large
groups,” the Rabbi says, looking out the window.
“Or self-righteous people in groups of one,” Reverend Jacobson says, chuckling
“So, Martin,” what’s the outlook?” Josh asks.
“Well, Nate doesn’t see a problem at the local level; but it could get sticky in the
appeals process if Gaffner pursues it. And when it comes to Washington if it were to
go that far, no one knows anymore how the Supreme Court would rule."
Reverend Walsh nods subtly. “Well, at least the Supreme Court has some new
blood. Some younger judges," says Pastor Walsh. “Maybe that’s a good sign.”
Rabbi Green chuckles. “Forget the fountain of youth, Dave; what we need is a
fountain of smart.”
Pastor Williams pours himself another cup of coffee. “Well, it’ll all take time …
… meanwhile, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Someone once said that wisdom is simply common sense in an uncommon
Okay, so what does religion contribute to society? Want to find out? Simple,
shut down the food banks, the clothing, housing, and health care assistance, the
counseling services, and park every kid in a parochial school on the doorstep of
the nearest public school next Monday morning and you’ll get an idea. Want to
see taxes go through the roof? Just let the government provide those services
churches now do.
Do you ever wonder why, when the self righteous call for elimination of tax
breaks on churches, they never express their outrage at the faithful who, at their
own double expense, educate their kids in private schools and lift a
considerable burden off the taxpayer? Where’s the ire when the less fortunate
are fed, clothed, or provided the basic necessities to keep themselves warm,
dry, and housed in bad times? Something that government would have to
supply with the contents of the taxpayers’ wallet. Taxpayers like Mr. Gaffner.
Again, where’s the outrage?
How does shackling the efforts of churches benefit anyone except the self righteous,
or the myopic? Where’s the sense in that?
Talk about “straining at a gnat … and swallowing a camel.”
Thinkaboutit. I’m Tony Baggz.
Copyright ©2012 Tres Angeli Publishing LLC