Prominent atheist Rob Sherman has filed a contempt of court motion in a federal court against the city of Zion, Ill., for using an old and banned version of the city seal that contains a cross.
Sherman swung to action after an ad in Lake County News-Sun last week featured the earlier city seal containing a cross, a dove, and the phrase “God Reigns.” The ad also had a picture of Commissioner Shantal Taylor inviting readers to a community forum at City Hall.
In 1991, a U.S. appellate court held that the city seal violated the principle of separation of church and state and that the Christian symbols must be removed. The ruling concerned a 1987 lawsuit against the seal by the Illinois chapter of American Atheists, which was then led by Sherman, a Buffalo Grove resident.
“I want them held in contempt of court for using the old city seal despite the permanent injunction against them from ever using that city seal again,” Daily Herald quoted Sherman as saying. “Shantal needs to resign.”
Federal Judge James Zagel will hear the case Wednesday. Zagel is the same judge who settled the American Atheist lawsuit in a U.S. Court of Appeals. The motion is to ask the city and Commissioner Taylor to explain why they should not be held in contempt for violating the court ruling.
Sherman has other objections, too. Referring to the text of the newspaper ad, “Zion is calling you to a higher place of service ... help be the change you are hoping for in your city,” he said, “That’s a very religious phrase.” If Commissioner Taylor resigns quickly, he added, he might remove the motion to show cause.
“We don’t know if it was City Hall or she did it on behalf of City Hall,” Sherman said, warning that it could cost the city “lots and lots of money.”
Zion city attorney Scott Puma was quoted as saying that he was yet to find out who placed the ad or paid for it.
The old version of the seal was designed by city founder John Alexander Dowie, a Scottish evangelist. He also founded Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, now called Christ Community Church.
After the 1991 ban, the city changed the phrase “God reigns” to “In God We Trust” in the seal.
Sherman, 58, became an atheist when he was nine after a teacher failed to answer a classmate’s question on the evidence of God’s existence. He is also influenced by American Atheists founder Madalyn Murray O’Hair.