SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CN) – Illinois unconstitutionally awarded $20,000 in taxpayer money to help a Christian group restore a giant cross, an atheist claims in Federal Court. Plaintiff Rob Sherman disputes the argument of the group that got the grant, which claims the grant was legal because the cross has been classified as a tourist landmark – not a religious symbol.
Sherman sued Illinois and Friends of the Cross Inc., saying the grant violates the separation of church and state. He wants the owners of the cross to repay the money.
Friends of the Cross told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the grant was legally awarded in 2008, since the 50-year-old cross is a tourist landmark, not a religious symbol. Steve McKeown, a pastor and administrator of the cross, said the cross drew roughly 1,000 visitors last weekend, proving it is a tourist draw.
Sherman disputes that.
The 11-story tall Bald Knob Cross is in Alto Pass, 130 miles southeast of St. Louis.
“On information and belief, no part of the funds provided to Friends of the Cross has yet been spent,” Sherman says in his complaint. “On information and belief, Friends of the Cross holds the $20,000.00 it received from the Department in a certificate of deposit.
“As part of their grant requirements, Friends of the Cross has falsely certified to the
Department that the funds would not be used to advance the religious mission of the owner of the Bald Knob cross, Bald Knob Cross of Peace, Inc.
“Restoring the cross advances the religious mission of Bald Knob Cross of Peace,
Inc., which is a primarily sectarian purpose.
“Such funding of the cross restoration also has the primary effect of advancing a particular religious sect, namely, Christianity; and such public funding of the restoration of this religious object results in an excessive entanglement between the State of Illinois and the Christian religion.”
Sherman, of Chicago, previously, and successfully, sued to block an Illinois law requiring a daily moment of silence in public schools.
“The job of atheists is to take clergy to court to challenge the epidemic of civil wrongs that they have perpetrated, on the sneak, against the people of Illinois,” Sherman wrote on his website. “It’s a big job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”
Sherman is represented by Dmitry Feofanov of Chicago Lemon Law, in Lyndon, Ill.