Ill. Judge Throws Out Atheist's Lawsuit over Cross's State Grant

A federal judge that oversees central Illinois threw out an atheist's lawsuit that demanded the return of a $20,000 state grant used towards restoring a giant 111-foot cross.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey rejected on Tuesday plaintiff Rob Sherman's argument that the grant was unconstitutional because it was taken from $5 million designated for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The grant, unlike Sherman's allegation, was found to be made at the discretion of the Illinois' executive branch and was not a legislative "earmark" as the atheist activist asserted.

Sherman had filed the lawsuit last August against the 501(c)(3) Friends of the Cross, the State of Illinois, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), Gov. Pat Quinn and DCEO Director Warren Ribley in regards to the $20,000 state grant given to restore Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass in southern Illinois.

Friends of the Cross had received the $20,000 state grant from DCEO in 2008. The non-profit contended that the cross, which is obviously religious, also has a significant tourism aspect to it.

Sherman had also agreed at the time the lawsuit was filed that the cross is a tourist attraction. But he insisted that the grant violates the separation of church and state because it promotes Christianity.

The 11-story cross, completed in 1963 after 15 years of fundraising, stands prominently more than 1,000 feet above sea level in the Illinois Ozark Mountains of southern Illinois. When lit up, the giant cross can reportedly be seen for 7,500 square miles.

After years of moisture and natural wear, panels of the cross have fallen off leaving holes throughout the cross.

Friends of the Cross had set the goal of raising $300,000 over three years to repair the cross. After three years, the non-profit group announced that it had exceeded its goal and raised $400,000 instead.

Sherman plans to take the case to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, according to The Associated Press.

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