Chicago suburb battles crime with ministers

Sunday, June 1, 2003

P The move has worried civil libertarians, but the mayor says he's doing nothing wrong.

By Brandon Loomis ~ The Associated Press

HARVEY, Ill. -- The mayor of this crime-ridden Chicago suburb says the town needs help that conventional forces cannot render. So he has turned to six Christian ministers, one for each ward.

In a move that worries civil libertarians, Mayor Eric Kellogg has appointed the volunteer chaplains to comfort crime victims and promote neighborhood activism in the poverty-stricken town of 30,000.

Kellogg said the ministers' unpaid duties do not violate the separation of church and state because they do not proselytize.

"We're not dealing with separation. We're dealing with collaboration," Kellogg said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union worries that a line has nonetheless been crossed.

"Our major concern is that this really amounts to a government promotion of religious values, and a particular religious value," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the group's Chicago office.

"When you have a tragedy, there are many people who would turn to their faith. The question is whether government should be sending someone out there to promote their particular faith."

Yohnka said he is unaware of any other such community programs. The ACLU will study the arrangement before deciding whether to bring a legal challenge, he said.

The Rev. Lance Davis, chaplain for the First Ward, said there is no attempt to indoctrinate. He said the police are overwhelmed and need help.

"Eleven murders last year," he said. "Over 800 car thefts. Nearly 1,000 assaults. Forty-two rapes. In a town that's six square miles with 30,000 residents, that's totally unacceptable."

Davis said ministers are the logical choice for organizers because they have a ready base of volunteers.

He also said the chaplains plan to incorporate other faiths.

'You can do this'

On Wednesday, the mayor, dressed in black fatigues and boots, led the chaplains and other volunteers through a drug-ridden neighborhood, asking residents to report illegal activity and ordering one squalid, graffiti-scrawled house boarded up as a drug den.

Davis and the mayor also entered an abandoned, broken-down recreational vehicle littered with beer bottles and used condoms, where they found a homeless man sleeping.

"You can't be sleeping in a place like this," the mayor said to the man.

Davis suggested a shelter.

"You've got to endure whatever you've got to endure to get right, brother," the minister told the man, sprawled on a broken bunk. "You can do this."

The man agreed to go to a shelter, and Davis escorted him away before police had the vehicle towed.

Some residents said they welcomed the clergymen who came to talk to them.

"You need that spirituality aspect, sort of like walking with a higher power," said Janice Johnson, 48, a recovering drug addict living at a group home. "You definitely need the church's involvement."

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