Shenanigans in Illinois: 1. Unique panel set up to give Muslims a voice in state government

August 4, 2016 • 8:30 am

Unless I don’t know the U.S. Constitution, what my own state of Illinois is poised to do is a palpable violation of the First Amendment, designed to avoid, among other things, excessive government entanglement with religion.

According to both The Humanist and The Chicago Tribune, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner is poised to sign a bill, passed by both state legislatures, to create an “Illinois Muslim-American Advisory Council”. Although under Rauner’s predecessor there was such a council, as well as other minority advisory councils, they were all dissolved. And although it’s not clear whether any of these earlier councils—whose existence I didn’t know of—were created by state law, this one will be.

While the motives for creating such a council may be admirable (Muslim leaders say it will provide a corrective for anti-Muslim bigotry), it surely entangles state government with religion in a formal way. The Tribune gives details:

The 21-member council, whose volunteer members would be appointed by the governor as well as leaders in the House and Senate, would advise the governor and General Assembly on issues affecting Muslim Americans and immigrants, including relations between Illinois and Muslim-majority countries. Through monthly meetings and two public hearings per year, members also would serve as liaisons between state agencies and communities across Illinois.

The act specifies that members would serve two-year terms and should bring expertise in a variety of areas including higher education, business, international trade, law, immigration and health care. Staff from certain state agencies would serve as ex-officio members.

You can see the bill, SB 0574, here. The relevant bit:

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 5.12.16 AM

There is, of course, no Jewish advisory council (although, on a per capita basis, Jews are subject to twice as many hate crimes as are Muslims), nor is there an atheist advisory council (although atheists are neck-and-neck with Muslims as the most demonized “belief” group in the U.S.). In fact, nonbelievers far outnumber Muslims in Illinois! In fact, I’d oppose all such groups. Let private lobbying organizations do their best to influence government, as is their right, but not as official bodies set up by the government. That gives those groups an unfair advantage. There is no other such council in any state in the U.S., and Humanist writer Luis Granados is unaware of any state council for any  religion. If any exist, they should be abolished.

You might say, “Well, at least it’s not going to cost the taxpayer anything.” According to the Humanist, you’re wrong:

Members of the council will serve without pay. However, it will be far from free from a taxpayer standpoint. The bill itself provides that the council will receive staff support from the office of the governor, and you can bet that the meeting rooms, printed materials, and halal coffee and donuts will be paid for by Illinois taxpayers as well.

They add:

Alabama doesn’t have a Baptist Advisory Council. Rhode Island doesn’t have a Catholic Advisory Council. New York doesn’t have a Jewish Advisory Council. Utah doesn’t have a Mormon Advisory Council (though, on reflection, it doesn’t really need one). Unless someone can produce evidence otherwise, it looks like Illinois is about to set a horrible precedent for official religious entanglement with government.

Granados agrees with me that this bill violates the First Amendment, and notes as well that besides the “entanglement of state and church” provision, it violates the Constitution itself (the First Amendment is an “amendment” to the Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights:

But there’s another clause in the Constitution—Article VI, paragraph 3: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust.”

Are they planning to appoint non-Muslims to this “office”? That would seem to be utterly contrary to the council’s raison d’etre. But if they don’t, there would seem to be a slam-dunk violation of Article VI. The bill itself says that the council must be “diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, age, gender, and geography”—but says nothing about being diverse with respect to religion, which would be silly.

I have, of course, already called this bill to the attention of those who can contest it. The odious Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has been accused of having ties to both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and whitewashes Islam at every turn (think of it as a body of Reza Aslans), is calling on its members to have this bill signed. Of course it would do that! But we cannot let any religion become part of our government. Let all religionists lobby as they are entitled to in a democracy, but we cannot give one religion precedence over another, or over nonbelief, in either national or state government.

h/t: Rodney J.

36 thoughts on “Shenanigans in Illinois: 1. Unique panel set up to give Muslims a voice in state government

  1. It will be interesting to see if the usual suspects from the Religious Right work to oppose this bill — or to extend it to include themselves.

    1. I think the Humanist article, or one of the others, say that Christian organizations are notably silent about this bill, perhaps because, if it passes, they can easily demand their own Advisory Council. When CAIR comes, can Bill Donoghue be far behind? And then of course we atheists will have to demand our own Council.

      Better not to have any of this stuff!

  2. What the voters of Illinois should be doing is questioning all the legislators that voted for this and maybe get rid of them next time around. Of course we know that never happens and they will continue to waste government time and tax dollars on such stupid ideas.

    Maybe they are attempting to compete with other states such as Tennessee or Alabama in writing unconstitutional laws. The FFRF will likely be all over it.

    1. In Illinois our legislators have all the time in the world for pointless things like this (that will get tossed by the courts) and no money whatsoever to spend on schools or social welfare (we’ve been without a budget for nearly two fiscal years now). Moreover, the state is so tightly gerrymandered that it is all but impossible for an incumbent to lose his or her seat, and this despite widespread public disgust at state government.

  3. Oy vey. Could there be a clearer violation of the establishment clause? I can’t think of one. Make no law respecting an establishment of religion. It’s mind-boggling that state legislatures ignore the constitution over and over when they draft new laws.

    ‘Twould be interesting to see a transcript of the discussion in the legislature concerning this bill. Jaqueline Collins, D-Chicago, is a co-sponsor of the bill. I encourage Illinois residents to contact her and give her an earful.

  4. This bill will work to the favor of Christians because it will give them more fuel for their claims of persecution (loss of Christian privilege) as well as igniting even more anti-Muslim hysteria which demands more “taking back America” to an ideal Christian dominated culture.

    1. They’d better unite with secularists against such bills, or else in relatively short time both groups (and others) may complain of very real persecution.

  5. My research of the Illinois Legislature website indicates that a third reading of the bill to establish the Muslim-American Advisory passed the General Assembly (lower house) on May 29, 2016 by a vote of 86-17 and passed the State Senate on April 22, 2016 by a vote of 43-4. Clearly, the vote was bipartisan and overwhelmingly in favor. This leads me to believe that the legislators have no idea what kettle of fish they are opening. They probably view the bill as an innocuous sop to the Muslim community without pondering the church-state issues. It appears that Governor Rauner has not yet signed the bill, so perhaps if he is forcefully advised what a bad precedent is set by this bill that he yet may veto it, although, even if he does this, the legislature could probably override the veto.

    1. Rauner is a Republican, and if he signs the bill, and it’s publicized, it could cost him big time with his constituents. They don’t give a damn about the First Amendment, but . . . Muslims!

  6. Christians will want a council of 210 members. To make it fair, of course. After all, we all know what a persecuted lot they are. Pretty soon everyone will want someone to represent their interests to government.

    If only they had some sort of elections to vote in representatives from small geographical areas to do exactly that…

  7. Would a “Council on the Role of Religion in Society” or something like that pass constitutional muster, provided it was ecumenical and also open to the non-religious and such?

    1. What is the purpose of such a council? To encourage religion in society? That would be right out.

      And what does “open to the non-religious” really mean? That such folk can be made available as evangelical fodder?

      There is no place for religion in government. Period.

      1. I agree there should be none, but in order to analyze people’s religious concerns and non-religious concerns about the religious concerns that impact policy, perhaps … (Also how can you be sure there’s no religious impact if one doesn’t analyze results?)

        I am right now looking at how our (Canadian) national statistical agency collects data on religious affiliation, belief, etc. I think understanding this is vital, as affects compliance (as we know) with laws etc., economic development, etc.

        The proposed “council” as a compromise to the one mentioned in the above post is another way to get at the same consideration (though perhaps a more costly one).

        1. I don’t really know what you’re talking about when you refer to “analyze people’s religious concerns”. It sounds like some kind of sociology study. If so, it should be funded and run like any other sociology would be.

          If you’re talking about gathering data on who believes what, that’s perfectly well done by non-government polling entities, like Pew Research Center.

          I see no purpose for such a government-sponsored council other than to promote religion in one way or another.

    1. Apparently, Suffolk County on Long Island in New York State has several advisory boards, including one for Muslim Americans.

      I suspect that the county views the Jewish and Muslim committees as composed of people of a certain ethnic group as opposed to a religious group. Thus, it would be viewed as similar to the Hispanic Advisory Board, which the county also sponsors. I am certain that these religiously oriented advisory boards were created with the best of intentions with the constitutional implications not even considered. Unless residents of Suffolk County raise a ruckus, which apparently has not happened or at least to any effect, these Boards will continue to exist and the constitutional issues will remain dormant.

      I wonder if there are many other such county or municipal boards in existence throughout the county. It would take a lot of time and research to find out. If there are relatively many, it would be a bad trend for the separation of church and state that has remained below the surface.

      1. Yes, as we know a Hispanic advisory board or African American advisory board speaks of ethnic groups. Nothing religious about it. However, a Muslim advisory board speaks directly of Islam and nothing else.

  8. Is it possible that the Illinois ACLU doesn’t keep tabs on state legislation, so that they actually didn’t know about it? I’m not sure which is worse: that they don’t keep tabs, or that they do, and they didn’t oppose this.

      1. I admit it’s an assumption, based on there being no mention of it in the coverage here. Normally if the ACLU opposed it, they would send a press releases out on it. The Tribune would have received that press release and a phone call as well, if the ACLU was interested in the issue. Of course, the Trib really should have called the ACLU for a position with or without a press release. Either way, there’s no mention of ACLU opposition in the Trib article. Could be the Trib’s failing, of course. But I think it more likely that the Trib would have mentioned a stated ACLU position on this.

  9. That bill is bad. There shouldn’t be “advisory councils” that relate to religious groups. What about atheist immigrants from Muslim-majority countries? Would this “advisory council” speak for them? Why would they need it? So it’s religious entanglement and should it pass it should be contested in court.

  10. Something why magnifies this idiocy, Illinois never passed a budget for FY 2015-16 – which ended on June 30, 2016. It does not have a budget for 2016-17. Social service agencies are shutting down since they have no money. People are getting fined for not renewing their license plates since the Secretary of State’s office does not have money to mail out renewal notices. I can go on about the mess we are in.

    Yet Rauner and the legislature found time to pass this law.

  11. Just found in the PuffHo:

    “California’s State Assembly has taken a strong stand against a rising climate of Islamophobia in America.

    On Monday, the Assembly passed a resolution that declared August 2016 as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month, as part of an effort to acknowledge the “myriad invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in California and across the country.”

    The resolution (HR-59) was introduced by Assemblymember Bill Quirk and passed with bipartisan support…”

  12. More pandering to Islam, we have something called the The Muslim Council of Great Britain, an organisation that is the go to if the BBC or any other news organisation want a “moderate” Muslim point of view, and of course they advise the Government on Muslim issues, well i’m of the view that if you are truly integrated into Society, what need do you have of a Council to speak for you,unless of course you want special treatment, which I think is the real reasons these organisations exist.

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