Appeals court to hear arguments in Bald Knob Cross suit today

Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Bald Knob Cross towers above the hills in Alto Pass, Ill., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. (Kristin Eberts)

CHICAGO -- A Chicago federal court will begin hearing an appeal today from an Illinois atheist who wants a Bald Knob Cross booster organization to return a state grant it received to restore the 11-story cross.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will take up Rob Sherman's appeal involving the $20,000 grant used to rehabilitate the Bald Knob Cross of Peace, located in Alto Pass, Ill.

Sherman contends that the government grant, which was used to restore the cross' tiles, is unconstitutional.

In August 2010, Sherman filed a federal lawsuit that requested the Friends of the Bald Knob Cross return a state grant given to the group to help with the restoration.

In his lawsuit, Sherman claimed that public funding shouldn't be used for sectarian purposes because it violates the constitutional separation of church and government. He had asked the organization in May to return a $20,000 grant the group received from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for the panels used on the cross' exterior.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey, central Illinois' chief federal jurist, threw out the lawsuit in February, accepting the recommendation of U.S. Magistrate David Bernthal, who ruled the state's economic development agency has discretion in how it doles out its money.

"It was never about church and state," Bald Knob Cross president D.W. Presley said in September. "The money was given to the Friends of the Cross, not the cross itself. The primary interest was in the tourism of the exhibit."

Sherman said he does not like his chances in the appeal because the judges in the district are mostly Republicans, who "primarily never rule in favor of keeping church and state separate."

Oral arguments in the appeal begin today.

psullivan@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

3630 Bald Knob Road, Alto Pass, IL

219 S Dearborn St # 2722, Chicago, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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