Atheist Takes Illinois Cross Case to Supreme Court

An Illinois-based atheist continues his lawsuit against the state over its helping to fund the renovation of a large cross by taking his case to the Supreme Court.

Robert Sherman, who lost his lawsuit against the state in the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in June 2012, and submitted his appeal to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, admitted to The Associated Press that his attempt to have his case heard is a lofty goal.

"The chances of them taking it are pretty slim," Sherman told AP, describing the Supreme Court as "the court of last resort."

As for his reason for appealing to the Supreme Court, Sherman told The Christian Post in an interview in June 2012, shortly after losing in the appeals court:

"I would like to appeal to the Supreme Court to demonstrate that the previous cases were wrongly decided because those decisions provide both the legislative and executive branches of government with a simple road map for getting away with defying the Constitution with impunity."

Sherman initially filed suit in Aug. 2010, arguing that the Bald Knob Cross of Peace, located at Alto Pass in Southern Illinois, was unconstitutional in that the state was providing $20,000 to the landmark's fund-raising organization, Friends of the Cross, for renovation.

Sherman argued that the state's funneling of money to the Friends of the Cross organization was a violation of the Constitution's First Amendment law separating church and state, although he noted that the money being allocated to the cross's renovation was taken from a $5 million "pork barrel" fund for individual legislators.

These legislators were able to decide where the money would be allocated as a part of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

When Sherman's case was thrown out, he took it to the Seventh Circuit United States Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel ruled in June that he had no legal standing because the Illinois legislature was not directly funding the Knob Cross renovation.

"A patronage-based process like the one apparently used in Illinois is a far cry from the type of 'specific congressional appropriations' that is analogous to the challenge," wrote the panel in regards to its decision to throw out Sherman's case.

"Sherman has no standing to challenge the Department's grant in the first instance, nor can he seek to compel Friends to return the disbursement," the panel added.

Sherman's most recent, and last, use of legal recourse with the Supreme Court is "unsurprising" to Jeff Lingle, president of Friends of Bald Knob Cross, who says Sherman's continued lawsuit "doesn't have anything to do with the religious aspect of it."

"We face it with hope that everything falls our way. We just have to go through it. We're not frustrated or disappointed. We're just keeping on," Lingle told The Associated Press.

The Supreme Court could accept or reject Sherman's application for appeal as soon as this fall.

The Bald Knob Cross of Peace, located 130 miles southeast of St. Louis, was erected in 1963. At 111 feet tall, it overlooks the Shawnee National Forest and was created in large part by local farmers, who helped construct the cross using their profits from pig sales.

The restoration of the cross, which was losing several of its porcelain tiles, was completed in 2010 and funded by Democratic Illinois State Senator Gary Forby via Friends of the Cross.