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Atheist Files Lawsuit Over Bald Knob Cross of Peace

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Aug 13, 2010 6:30PM

The damaged cross in early 2009, Photo via
Rob Sherman, an atheist from Buffalo Grove, has made good on a threat to take legal action over state funds directed towards a religious icon. Earlier this year, Sherman asked that Friends of Bald Knob Cross of Peace return the grant because it was unconstitutional. But after they refused, he's taken the next step: filing a lawsuit. Both Gov. Quinn and former governor Rod Blagojevich are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Not that the FOBKC are standing pat. From ChuffPo:

Steve McKeown, a pastor and administrator of the cross, said he was confident Sherman would not win. He said Bald Knob drew roughly 1,000 visitors last weekend, underscoring its sway as a tourist draw.

"What Mr. Sherman fails to recognize is there's a long-standing precedent for the fact the just because an organization may have a sectarian purpose, it does not exempt them automatically from receiving tax dollars," McKeown said. "What Mr. Sherman wants is a United States that's free from religion," McKeown said. "Our founding fathers never meant that to be the case."

But the Friends of the Cross still have their hands full with this and some other recent troubles. On his website, Sherman also references the arrest of Rev. Bill Vandergraph, pastor of Full Gospel Pentecostal Church and president of the Friends of the Cross, for predatory criminal sexual assault of a child under the age of 13 earlier this year. Said Sherman:

There is an actual link between the theft of taxpayer dollars by Christian clergy and the theft of a child’s innocence by Christian clergy. The link is that Christian clergy seem to have the attitude that they can get away with anything they want to, as long as they do it on the sneak. The job of State’s Attorneys is to prosecute clergy for the epidemic of criminal wrongs that they engage in on the sneak.

So the fight is ugly and it's could only get uglier as Sherman has promised to stick to his guns and fight a potentially long, expensive legal battle, even setting up a section on his website where he accepts donations to fund the battle. Sherman argued 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, argued that the cross eligible for the funds since it's been classified as a tourist attraction. 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.