'Friendly Atheist' Tries Giving $3K to Food Pantry After Library, Park District Reject Donation; It's a 'Hate Group' Says Trustee

An atheist blogger living in a Chicago suburb has announced his plans to donate $3,000 to the nearby Niles Township Food Pantry after his donation was denied by the Morton Grove Park District and local library.

Hemant Mehta, a Naperville-area teacher and blogger behind the well-known website "Friendly Atheist," said in a recent YouTube video that after his donation was rejected by both the park district and library, he's hoping the food pantry will accept the money and put an end to this saga of rejected donations.

"The food pantry serves a lot of people who are hungry in Morton Grove and the surrounding communities," Mehta said in the YouTube video, posted by The Atheist Voice. "I think that [the Niles Township Food Pantry] is a fair place to give the money. I know I've said this before but I can't imagine they're going to reject the money, especially in this time of the year. There are no restrictions, no strings attached with the money. So I'll be sending them the check very soon."

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"Hopefully the people will benefit from it. I just can't believe how hard it has been as an atheist to give away money with no strings at all to people who you would think would want the money," Mehta added.

The series of rejections surrounding Mehta's donation began in November when atheist Dan Ashta, a commissioner of the Morton Grove Park District, refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during city meetings due to the pledge's reference to "One Nation, Under God." Ashta's refusal to stand for the pledge prompted the local Morton Grove chapter of the American Legion, a veterans organization, to pull its funding to the city's park district, which amassed an annual $2,600.

Mehta, upon hearing of the park district's sudden loss of funds, started an online fundraising campaign to replace the money, successfully raising $3,406 from readers and supporters of Ashta. When the atheist blogger attempted to give the donation check to the local park district, it was rejected by the district's executive director, Tracey Anderson, who said in an email that the district had no intention of "becoming embroiled in a First Amendment dispute or allegations it is sympathetic to or supports/doesn't support any particular political or religious cause."

Mehta had reportedly attached a note to the donation check that said the funds were a gift from "atheists everywhere" and meant to show support for city commissioner Dan Ashta.

The atheist blogger then attempted to give the $3,000 donation check to the local Morton Grove Library, and following a heated debate, the Library Board voted 5-2 on Dec. 19 to reject the donation. The Morton Grove Champion reports that library trustees who voted against the donation did so for different reasons. One trustee, Barbara Novick, said she didn't want to accept a donation that was initially intended for somewhere else, such as the park district.

Another trustee, Cathy Peters, said she didn't want to accept the donation after reading some of the expletive-laced, religiously offensive comments written by readers on Mehta's "Friendly Atheist" Facebook page, calling those behind the donation a "hate group."

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Niles Township county clerk has yet to receive the donation check from Mehta. Niles Township Supervisor Lee Tamraz added that the decision to accept or reject the donation will likely be left up to township trustees, who also serve as foundation board members.

Although Tamraz told The Chicago Tribune that the Niles Township Food Pantry could certainly use the generous donation, he "[doesn't] want to lose any subsequent donations if it's going to be a problem. After this is done, we still have to carry on. We still have to feed 5,000 people."

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