A Christian group in southern Illinois attempting to restore one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere is being challenged by a Chicago-area Atheist this week, who claims the $20,000 the group received from the state to restore the cross violates the Illinois constitution.
Rob Sherman, who railed against proposed statewide "moment of silence" in public schools (which was ultimately ruled unconstitutional) said that the Friends of Bald Knob Cross need to return the state's grant money--or he would take legal action.
The money was used long ago as a down payment on the $550,000 makeover of one of the region's biggest tourist draws, said Bill Vandergraph, a member of Friends of Bald Knob Cross board. He suggested the city slicker fashioning himself as "the state's best-known atheist activist" shouldn't hold his breath that any money will be handed back.
Sherman, however, thinks the group will (and should) return the money.
"When the People of the State of Illinois sent that $20,000 to Springfield, we did it to pay for the State's constitutional obligations, such as roads and bridges, schools and teachers, law enforcement and mass transit," Sherman wrote in his blog. "We didn't send the money to Springfield so that the General Assembly could sneak the money to Friends of the Cross to pay for the cost of rebuilding a 110-foot-high Christian cross on private property. I think that Friends of the Cross now knows that."
The money was given to the group in December of 2008 as a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Department spokeswoman Marcelyn Love told The Southern that they are aware of Sherman's concerns, but declined to answer further questions about the grant's constitutionality.
The cross has been atop the 1,025-foot-high Bald Knob Mountain since 1964, but started falling apart over the years. Those who support the cross restoration say the site has become a tourist attraction, located in Alto Pass, Ill., about 130 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Despite Sherman's lawsuit threats, those working to restore the cross say repairs will be finished by September "regardless of whether Sherman files a lawsuit," according to the Chicago Tribune.