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Area Man Challenges State Funding for Religious Icon

By aaroncynic in News on May 27, 2010 6:20PM

The damaged cross in early 2009, Photo via
A suburban Chicago man is challenging a fundraising group in Alto Pass, Illinois over $20,000 in state funding he says was used unconstitutionally. Rob Sherman, an atheist from Buffalo Grove, wants the group known as Friends of Bald Knob Cross of Peace to return a grant they received for the restoration of one of the largest cross’s in the Western Hemisphere. The group received the grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Sherman is arguing that his tax dollars should not go to promote a religious symbol. The Illinois State Constitution reads: “No grant or donation of money shall ever be made by the state for any sectarian purpose.” The Bald Knob Cross of Peace bylaws state that while members need not adhere to a statement of faith, “the Cross itself is the iconic symbol for the person of Jesus and his followers.” The group however, argues that the cross is a tourist attraction. Jon Musgrave, a board member, said the cross “has brought in hundreds of thousands of tourists to a hill just outside this little town of Alto Pass.”

The 11-story tall structure has stood overlooking the Ozark Mountains since 1963 and can be seen from miles away. The organization has spent more than $150,000 restoring the cross. Sherman has given the group 30 days to return the $20,000 grant to the state before he seeks legal action, saying, "I am not demanding that you do that. I am respectfully requesting that you do that."