Activist asks Friends of the Bald Knob Cross to return money to state

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The interior structure of Bald Knob Cross is seen in this file photo. A group is raising money to replace the landmark's white tiles, but an activist says $25,000 the the sectarian group received from the state is unconstitutional. (Laura Simon)

ALTO PASS, Ill. -- A Chicago-area activist told members of the Friends of the Bald Knob Cross they don't have to be a victim of what he says is a misappropriation of funds by the Illinois Legislature.

Rob Sherman, a retired talk show host and an atheist, attended the Friends' monthly meeting Tuesday at the Alto Pass Civic Center and requested the group return $20,000 granted by the state for the restoration of the 111-foot cross five miles from Alto Pass.

Although no one from the 12-member board made a motion to act on the request Tuesday, the Rev. Bill Vandergraph, a Friends board member, told Sherman the board has considered his request and is already seeking additional input on the issue.

"We'll make a decision as we deem necessary, and it'll be an ethical decision," Vandergraph said.

While Sherman didn't ask the Friends to make a decision at Tuesday's meeting, he requested members review the constitutionality of how they acquired the grant. If they decide to not return the funds once they review the Illinois Constitution, he said, he'll file a lawsuit to force them to give up the money.

"I could just run it to court and drop you off a copy of the lawsuit, but litigation is expensive," Sherman said.

The money, secured by Sen. Gary Forby in 2008, should be used for public interests, he said, such as schools or road improvements and not for sectarian purposes. The Friends of the Bald Knob Cross, formed two years ago to help raise money to renovate the cross, requires members to be Christian.

"I'm asking you to recognize that the money you received is not for a constitutional, permissible purpose," Sherman said. "The reason that you are victims is that you have a right to expect when our government does things that it's doing something that's legal or at least they intend to do something that's legal."

The group has raised more than half of what's needed to complete the renovation, a total of $375,000, and the third annual Bald Knob Cross Walk may raise more funds.

Those interested in the walk may start signing up at 8 a.m. June 12 at the Alto Pass Pavilion. The walk begins at 9 a.m. at the pavilion and is intended for participants to make a five-mile trek to the cross and back to the pavilion.

Sherman also briefly referred a $5,000 grant received from Union County tourism funds. Sherman said because he's from Chicago and not Union County, he doesn't have standing to request the group return those funds.

"But you should do the right thing there, too," he said.

ehevern@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

Alto Pass, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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