Court Case Seeks To Stop Destruction Of 160-Year-Old
More than 150 family members of people buried in St. Johannes
Cemetery, located next to Chicago O'Hare Airport, have filed a
petition to stop the City of Chicago from removing those graves to
make way for new runways and terminals at O'Hare.
The cemetery has been at the center of the O'Hare extension
controversy since 2005, with opponents deeming the
160-year-old burial ground sacrosanct. Religious experts and
lawyers have also weighed in on the matter, saying the ruling could
have widespread implications for religious rights and religious
freedom across the United States.
"St. Johannes is an active cemetery, and destroying it not only
desecrates holy ground but also affronts the religious beliefs of
the people buried there and their living family members," says Rev.
Michael M. Kirchhoff, Sr. "Should it come to pass, this act would
be nothing more than state-approved and state-sponsored religious
desecration by Chicago."
The petition, filed last week in DuPage County Circuit Court,
asserts the destruction of St. Johannes constitutes a violation of
the Illinois Religious and Restoration Act and notes that
"petitioners have a central religious belief that the graves of
those departed and buried in the consecrated ground of St. Johannes
must remain inviolate and undisturbed." At issue is the assertion
made in an earlier Seventh Circuit Court decision that Chicago
could seize St. Johannes because the city's motive is
"In other words, if Chicago prevails in this case, municipal,
state and even the federal government anywhere in this country can
seize and destroy any church, synagogue, mosque or other religious
structure to pursue a government project, as long as the motive has
nothing to do with religion," says Joe Karaganis, attorney for St
John's Church of Christ. "This is like saying the government of the
District of Columbia could pave over the Washington National
Cathedral to make way for a public parking lot."
The petitioners also accuse Chicago of abusing its power and
"seeking to unlawfully take more land than is necessary by
concocting a second fictional development which Chicago has no
realistic or reasonable likelihood of every constructing."
The City of Chicago seeks to seize St. Johannes through eminent
domain for the O'Hare Modernization Program, a $20 billion
expansion project. Members of the group Stop-OMP maintain the plan
is ill-advised... a contention backed up by several airlines
serving O'Hare, which have also questioned the wisdom of proceeding
with the ambitious project.
As ANN reported, opponents note Chicago has
yet to secure funding for the project... and the airlines have said
they will not pay for it.
"I am horrified to think that my relatives and forbearers cannot
rest in peace, even though everyone knows that the O'Hare expansion
cannot possibly go forward," says John Geils, president of the
Village of Bensenville, IL. "Given that Chicago will never build
the overall project, Chicago's claims that it must destroy this
sacred religious cemetery are a cruel hoax. The city's actions are
deplorable and show us a side of Chicago political greed that's
even uglier than what we imagined."
St. Johannes Cemetery holds the bodies of more than 1,300
members of St. John's United Church of Christ and their relatives.
Multiple generations of families are buried at St. Johannes, and
many living members of the St. John's congregation plan to be
buried there as well.