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:
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.
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.