Supreme Court rejects atheist’s appeal over cross

Thursday, January 24, 2013

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a Chicago-area atheist’s final appeal in his lawsuit challenging the use of state funds to renovate an 11-story cross atop southern Illinois’ tallest peak.

The high court on Jan. 22 declined without comment to review Robert Sherman’s request to hear his case involving the $20,000 grant given in 2008 to the 111-foot-high Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass. Lower courts already had ruled that Sherman lacked standing to sue over the grant. Sherman’s case is now finished.

Sherman sued in August 2010, arguing that efforts to repair the cross using state money have “the primary effect of advancing a particular religious sect, namely Christianity.” He noted that the grant came from a $5 million pot of money that the state Legislature channeled to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Sherman insisted that the grant was a legislative earmark — not a discretionary allocation from the executive branch — and therefore violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.

“This action by the Supreme Court affirms that our nation’s court system is a joke,” Sherman said in a statement. The high court’s “refusal to take my case means that any legislative (body), whether it be Congress, a state legislature or a municipal board, can make blatantly unconstitutional grants to advance religion simply by naming an executive branch agency as a middleman in the transaction.

“What a joke! What a fraud against the taxpayers of this country.”

Marcelyn Love, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, would not comment.

D.W. Presley, president of the cross’ board of directors, called the Supreme Court’s decision “not completely surprising,” given the atheist’s series of legal defeats.

“In the grand scheme of things, while this is sensational news, this was just a small portion of what we’ve had going on in the last three years. The more important story is seeing the cross restored,” Presley said. Sherman “used the legal process to the fullest extent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re just glad it’s over and behind us.”

The grant in question has long been spent, used as a down payment on the recently completed, three-year effort to restore the nearly 50-year-old cross that had been showing its age with hundreds of white porcelain panels rusting, missing or hanging on by coat hangers and baling wire.

Related:

7th Circuit hears challenge to funding for 111-foot Ill. cross

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