After Lengthy Battle, Supreme Court Declines Atheist’s Case, Rules in Favor of Illinois Politician to Give $20,000 to Christian Group

Last we heard from atheist activist Rob Sherman, he had filed a lawsuit after Illinois legislators gave $20,000 to the Friends of the Cross organization “for the purchase and installation of new exterior panels for the cross to replace existing panels that are missing, worn or rusted.”

In other words, Sherman was opposed to the state giving thousands of dollars to repair this:

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled against Sherman, saying he didn’t have standing to sue the government over something like this.

His last option was for the Supreme Court to take up his case… but yesterday, they also said no:

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a Chicago-area atheist’s final appeal in his lawsuit challenging the use of state funds to renovate an 11-story cross atop southern Illinois’ tallest peak, ending the legal dispute spanning more than two years.

D.W. Presley, president of the cross’ board of directors, called the Supreme Court’s decision “not completely surprising,” given the atheist’s series of legal defeats.

“In the grand scheme of things, while this is sensational news, this was just a small portion of what we’ve had going on in the last three years. The more important story is seeing the cross restored,” Presley said. Sherman “used the legal process to the fullest extent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re just glad it’s over and behind us.”

Rob Sherman responded to the ruling in a statement on his website:

Today’s refusal to take my case means that any Legislative body, whether it be Congress, a State Legislature or a local unit of government, can make blatantly unconstitutional grants to advance religion simply by naming an Executive Branch agency as the middleman in the transaction.

My case sought to have the Supreme Court establish that the constitutionality of expenditures of public funds shall be based on how the government spends our money, rather than on which branch of government makes (or claims credit for making) the expenditure, but the Supreme Court said, “No!” Instead, the Supreme Court has established that, now, both the Legislative and Executive Branches of government can make blatantly unconstitutional [expenditures], so long as the Executive Branch is involved, either as the originator of the unconstitutional grant or as the middleman for an unconstitutional grant by the Legislative Branch.

What a joke! What a fraud against the taxpayers of this country. Our nation’s court system is a truly a House of Fraud.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think he’s pleased…

In any case, I’m glad he filed the lawsuit. Even if it ended in pseudo-defeat, Sherman stood up for the side of church/state separation and didn’t lose on the merits. He fought a good fight here.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Agnostic Philosophy

    How how the government is going to hell (pun intended) in so many ways,ha. What the heck!

  • C Peterson

    Once again, the courts cheat the American people by refusing to rule on an important issue, and by continuing the truly awful trend of using “standing” to simply ignore an issue… as if any American could ever lack standing in a Constitutional challenge. Sad and scary.

  • J-Rex

    That thing is so ugly!!!

  • Nivex

    The thing you have to remember about politicians in Illinois is that they take pride in not playing fair:

    (There are plenty more articles on this. This is just the first one I could grab in a hurry.)

    tl;dr: Former mayor wanted land for park, but he was already under federal obligation to keep it as an airport. To get what he wanted, he destroyed the airport under dark of night. The city was fined heavily, but the airport was never rebuilt.

    The saddest thing for me is, having not thought about this for awhile, is that his successor supports his move:

    So basically, if you don’t want something around in Illinois, the only way to get rid of it is to tear it down in the middle of the night.

  • Name

    From a legal pov, what would have been done differently or better?

  • C Peterson

    Seriously. It’s enough to make any Christian with an aesthetic sense consider conversion to Islam. Of course, if you’ve seen what most evangelical churches look like, you’d know that these people have no sense of aesthetics at all. Something to do with living in trailers, I’d guess.

  • Sir TJ

    Is that a suggestion on how to deal with the cross? Sometimes I don’t like the way I think.

  • fin312

    You people are amazing, the high court shows a little love to theists and you all get bent out of shape. Find someone or somebody with standing to take up the fight, then bitch and moan if you get butt hurt some.

  • Sven2547

    Don’t you know? It’s only controversial if tax money goes to things Christians don’t like.

  • DougI

    And Christians get irate when Atheists spend $1000 on a billboard yet they have no problem with hundreds of thousands being spent on these useless structures. Once again, this court case shows how the American people must subsidize the useless institution of religion.

  • Gus Snarp

    You’re missing the key point: what the court ruled is that a taxpayer has no standing to challenge discretionary spending. That basically means that there is no one with standing, no one can sue to challenge discretionary spending going to religious purposes. There is no “finding someone with standing” in this case. This ruling essentially removes any recourse. This is a horrible precedent.

  • not-a-yank

    USA : Simply the most corrupt and most backward of all developed nations

  • not-a-yank

    Holy Smoke?

  • jdm8

    I agree, I thought the handling of Meigs field was done horribly. That Rahm doesn’t repudiate the method calls into question his ethics.

  • Baal

    I’d be ok with Tax dollars being used to take it down as a public nuisance eye sore.

  • Tim

    removes all recourse? What about voting for some better politicians next election

  • baal

    Shouldn’t the person of last recourse in no standing cases be the State Attorney General? The current one for IL is at least a Democrat. That’s no guarantee of interest in prosecuting the case but with an (R) the answer would be a forgone decision.

  • Alexander Ryan

    Except for maybe North Korea, though I suppose it depends on what counts as ‘developed’.

  • baal

    fin – you’re entitled to your church but you’re not entitled to have me pay directly for it. Your church is already getting huge indirect subsidies via free police / fire / roads and such that the rest of us have to pay for. To have us also pay for upkeep and repair for your eye sore is gilding the lily.

  • eric

    SCOTUS receives about 100x what it can actually hear in terms of submitted cases. So I don’t think you can say they cheated the American people. Its much more likely that this just didn’t make the high priority cut. Lots of good cases don’t, and the court is basically in the position of it being practically impossible for them to fix every wrong decision that comes before them.
    But the lower courts? Yeah.

  • Gus Snarp

    In reply both to this and to Tim below – the purpose of the courts and the constitution is to ensure that the rights of individuals are not dependent on the whims of elected officials, whether they be legislators, the governor, or the attorney general.

  • Rich Wilson

    It’s unfortunate that we have to tie this into the actual dollars spent, because it’s not what’s important. I’m more annoyed honestly about my tax dollars going to subsidize professional sports franchises.

    The real issue is that the government is showing favoritism of a particular religious point of view. That’s it. Have any Mosques gotten grant money to renovate? Is FFRF getting any grant money for their new building? I hope not.

    We should all have standing, not as tax payers, but as citizens.

  • Rich Wilson

    The link to the 7th circuit decision isn’t valid (and probably never was). I don’t suppose anyone has a copy? Are you here Rob?

  • fin312

    I don’t care if you think it’s an eye sore, instead of bitching and moaning, have a mosque apply for grants, have the FFRF apply for grants and Temple Beth-els apply for grants, that’s what they are out there for. Then believe it or not if those factions were declined a grant then I’d go to bat for you all.

  • Blacksheep

    It’s not the spending that get’s Christians irate, it’s the message.

  • jimv2000

    Sounds like he lost because he couldn’t show that he had standing in the case.

  • Rich Wilson

    Everyone uses the “and there are no starving children?” argument.

  • jimv2000

    You can do a search for opinions on their site, you just have to know the year it was filed (2011 in this case). Here’s the correct link:

  • Rich Wilson

    I rather suspect that if FFRF did it, you’d say “See, atheism IS a religion!” Which is what happened when AA applied for religious status to test the point that churches get different non-profit rules from everyone else.

  • Rich Wilson

    Whatever may be lurking in the background of this appropriations legislation, the $20,000 grant to Friends was not the result of legislative action; rather, it can be traced at most to the initiative of a single legislator. The ultimate pool of $5 million was in the hands of an executive agency, which was formally responsible for the
    decision to hand out the $20,000 to Friends. Taxpayer standing under these circumstances is foreclosed by Hein v. Freedom from Religious Foundation, Inc., 551 U.S. 587 (2007). We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court

    So, since the actual $20K grant wasn’t due to direct legislative action, but rather an executive agency, tax payers don’t get a say in it.


    For a taxpayer to have standing to challenge a government
    expenditure as violating the Establishment Clause, the Supreme Court has required that the challenged action be “congressional action under the taxing and spending
    clause.” Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 106 (1968). Recently, the Court limited the reach of this holding to suits against “specific congressional enactment[s],” expressly excluding “discretionary Executive Branch expenditures”

    So it seems there are a myriad of ways that our tax dollars can be used to support religious institutions, and we have fuck all to say about it.

  • baal

    Tax payer standing and citizen standing have been litigated ad naseum and are legally more or less the same thing. It would be a bad rule to allow either or both as a sole measure for standing.

    I strongly suspect that this case had a local who could particularize a different harm to assert standing but was bounced anyway due to anti-atheist bias.

  • baal

    Rich is right. The xtians get very bent out of shape when other religions or not religions claiming religious status ask for state grants. Also, the solution to a unconstitutional establishment of religion is not more violations of the constitution.

  • baal

    I agree in theory but the reality of the US Courts is that the rights of individuals is often dependent solely on the whims of which party or specific person is an elected position.

    On the broader level, Congress and State legislatures can and do grant specific immunity from suit to certain incidents or industries. Workers Comp would be a primary example of this. All those ‘you agree to arbitration’ clauses would be another. In most insurance cases, the insurance company gets to decide to sue or not. You might have a right to sue after they decide not to but private citizens rarely win those cases. Really, the courts are at best a safety net.

  • Rich Wilson

    “I strongly suspect that this case had a local who could particularize a different harm to assert standing” I don’t see how. The standing issue wasn’t based on the individual but the action. It would have had to get away from how and what money was distributed and into something completely different. And I can’t think of a single example, assuming that the cross itself is legal.

  • Brian Westley

    Yes, but the way this idiot court ruled, nobody could EVER have standing to challenge any amount of money being spent in the same manner. It’s a huge end-run around the first amendment.

  • Blacksheep

    Did some Christians say that about the atheist billboards?
    I didn’t see that personally but I guess I could see that happening.
    That’s a dangerous thing for them to say unless they are spending all of their money in ways that always help people.

  • Blacksheep

    Why are there “pools” of millions of dollars sitting around to be used at the discretion of public officials, religious or otherwise? I thought times were supposed to be tough?

  • J-Rex

    That is something I’ve noticed. People are very willing to give up any sense of aesthetics as long as it has something to do with Jesus.

  • Rich Wilson

    And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.

    Oh wait, that’s talking about pork not pork barrel so it’s all cool.

  • Darthmid

    It is pretty sad. They don’t want their tax money going to this stuff but free contraceptives is ok. The irony.

  • Richard Wade

    Forcing all citizens to pay for the government to promote Christianity amounts to… RELIGIOUS SOCIALISM! (cue “Psycho” screeching sound)

  • Adam Patrick

    Paying for contraceptives actually helps people. Rebuilding a giant religious symbol is just a waste of money.

  • Patterrssonn

    Because using tax money to promote a religion is the same as using it to provide medical care.

    The logic of xtians, never fails to impress.

  • Glasofruix

    And the message of christianity being?

    My money is on the giant middle finger.

  • Ronlawhouston

    1. Don’t file in Federal court – standing is usually a problem in Federal court. if your facts don’t meet a relatively narrow exception in Flast v. Cohen you are simply out of luck.

    2. Try to find some other injury or fact pattern that gets you out of the taxpayer challenging tax expenditures under the establishment clause trap. This requires some creativity and careful selection of the plaintiff who will actually bring the case.

  • Ronlawhouston
  • wmdkitty

    Plenty bad preachers for the devil to stoke?

  • coyotenose

    Okay, why the hell would anyone downvote this comment?

  • coyotenose

    But the graphics aren’t important to the message! -_^

  • coyotenose

    I imagine for much the same reason I (theoretically) have more money in my checking account than I use. Crap happens. Of course in both cases it’s more likely to be “I saw some crap I wanted.”

  • coyotenose

    It’s interesting that you express no problem with Constitutional violations when you come here to act pissy, and in fact imply your support for the violators. That you aren’t outraged by people making endruns around that document doesn’t speak poorly of anyone else here.

  • coyotenose

    Your being too stupid to grasp the definitions of words, and your blinding ignorance of basic logical fallacies, are hampering your ability to make an argument that isn’t both sad and laughable.

  • Carmelita Spats

    This ugly-ass cross is so hideous that it makes Baby Jesus cry. As torture instruments go, I’m partial to the garrote. I’m all about aesthetics and if tax payers are going to fund this Great Wall O’ Cat Stench, then I want funding for a giant statue of Jesus as J-Dog: black Diesel jeans, Hugo Boss motorcycle boots and a snug tank-top with “Cutie” written across the top.

  • Lurker111

    What a monstrosity. Looks like a cheesy prop from a 50′s SF movie.

  • Sindigo

    Nailed it.

  • Sindigo

    Once the hungry have been fed, the sick healed, injustices righted and the poor clothed then and only then should the government spend $20k on a religious eyesore that benefits no-one.

  • Baby_Raptor

    A little? What country do you live in? You certainly don’t live in the US.

    And that’s completely ignoring the fact that you’re condoning them ignoring a blatant violation of the Constitution simply because it favours your side. I’m sure your god loves that kind of honesty.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Yes, enabling women to control their own lives in a happy, healthy way instead of an oppressive, against their beliefs one is Good Cookies.

    Enabling women that need hormonal birth control to treat health issues is Good Cookies.

    Not allowing a few stupid people who either deny science or adhere to Bronze Age myths to control others is Good Cookies.

    And pissing off fundies is Good Cookies.

    If you disagree, I kindly suggest you keep your personal beliefs to yourself. Nobody is forcing you to take contraceptives. We’re just requiring that they be avaliable for people who want them.

  • Baby_Raptor

    You’re lying. You read this blog fairly often. You’ve seen the multitude of articles about the religious getting butthurt when Atheists announce their presence. I know you have, because I’ve argued with you on some of them.

    Lying doesn’t make you or your side look good. And your god says it’s a sin.

  • Rev. Red Mage

    Saying “nailed it” in a thread about a cross made me giggle for some reason.

  • PietPuk

    Apparently it does not take a lot to get christians irate.

  • Sindigo

    I wish I’d meant it that way.

  • sciencelady

    I don’t think taxpayer money should be used to repair a Christian symbol on display.

  • Tiffany Harding

    What an eyesore! And I’m not talking about the Christian symbol of a cross. For centuries there have been plenty of works of art and music based on Christian symbols and rituals that are, truly, beautiful. Sistine Chapel anyone. anyway, THAT thing, it’s big, has no style, is ugly, rusty, a dull color, no artistic statement, no inspiration, no nothing…it’s just a big cross jutting out of the land with no grace. It’s hideous. Get rid of the ugly thing.

  • Tiffany Harding

    Agreed, it’s got no style…it’s not art.

  • coyotenose

    Oh duh, it got downvoted for the obvious falsehood, not the sentiment.