A ministry in Chicago is celebrating, for now, after a legal victory against the state government.
By The Hand Club for Kids, a ministry of historic Moody Church, operates an after-school program that is distinctly religious: Bible studies and chapel services, along with free food, medical care, and tutoring.
In recent months, however, the Illinois Department of Employment Security attempted to assess unemployment compensation taxes to By The Hand Club, even though the club qualified as nontaxable since its creation in 2001.
According to Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the Club, an agency official said the department changed its position because determinations had been made when "things were run a little bit differently around here."
"The state of Illinois came in and said, Even though you've been exempted from the state unemployment law since your founding, because you're a religious entity, we don't think you're religious. What you're doing is providing free food and free medical care and free tutoring," says ADF attorney Jeremiah Galus.
"That, in the state's eyes, was secular," he continues, "even though there was no doubt that By The Hand did those things precisely because of its religious beliefs requiring it to care for needy children."
Last week, a trial court on appeal ruled in favor of By The Hand Club For Kids.
"The state has the option of appealing," says Galus. "We feel confident that if they were to do that, the same decision would be reached, but we're hopeful that the government will let By The Hands just minister."
Illinois would be hurting itself, the attorney argues, by clamping down on the Club.
"By The Hand has an $8 million budget that provides services to these kids for free," he explains. "Every dollar By The Hand Club spends is a dollar the state doesn't' have to spend taking care of some of the most under-resourced kids and students in the Chicago neighborhoods."