Illinois Law Regarding Crimes on Church Premises Upheld

State law gives harsher penalties for crimes committed on church property.

Church Law and Tax1993-05-01Recent Developments

Freedom of Religion

Key point: State laws imposing harsher penalties upon crimes committed in churches than in other locations do not impermissibly prefer churches in violation of the first amendment’s “nonestablishment of religion” clause.

An Illinois appeals court upheld the constitutionality of a state law that authorized longer prison sentences for crimes committed on church premises. At 7:00 o’clock one morning a parishioner was walking down a city street, saying his rosary, on his way to early morning worship services at a Catholic church. While walking past an alley, the parishioner was confronted by an assailant holding a broken bottle. The two men walked to the church and entered. The assailant beat the parishioner and took his wallet. The assailant was later charged with robbery and aggravated battery. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in a state penitentiary. In computing the sentence, the trial judge relied on several “aggravating factors” specified by state law. One of these specifies that a judge can extend a prison sentence if a crime “took place in a place of worship.” The assailant appealed his conviction, claiming that it was improper for the judge to base the sentence in part on the fact that the crime occurred on church property. A state appeals court disagreed, noting that the law had a secular purpose and effect. It observed: “Places of worship reach out and extend an invitation to the public; doors are unlocked; security is relaxed. The provision here merely reflects the legislature’s determination that crimes committed in such places, like crimes committed against the aged, are more repugnant to the community than, for example, crimes committed against convenience stores and those who use them.” People v. Carter, 592 N.E.2d 491 (Ill. App. 1992).

See Also: The Establishment Clause

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