We Raised More Than $3,000 for the Morton Grove Park District and They Rejected It

Back in October, I posted about how the American Legion Post 134 was financially boycotting the Morton Grove (Illinois) Park District because its Commissioner Dan Ashta wouldn’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at board meetings. Ashta’s sitting down for the Pledge cost the district $2,600 that the American Legion group had been giving them each year.

Commissioner Dan Ashta

This was never about anyone being unpatriotic; this was always about the right to exercise our freedoms, whether that means sitting or standing for the Pledge.

I asked all of you to donate money to the Park District so we could make up for the lost money, at least for this year, and you all responded brilliantly, raising more than $3,000 in just a couple of weeks.

That money was raised by a lot of atheists (and Christian allies) who applauded Ashta for his brave stance.

On November 12, I sent the park district a check for all the money that I had received at that time (minus any fees taken by the fundraising website). I included a brief message explaining where the money was coming from. After not hearing back from the park district and not seeing the check clear from my bank account, I emailed them Sunday night inquiring about the donation.

This is what the district’s Executive Director Tracey Anderson told me Monday afternoon:

Hello Hemant,
The check was received, thank you.

I just sent you a letter indicating that we received the check. Unfortunately, your donation as presented must be returned. The Park Board has 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.

Again, thank you for thinking of the district.

Had they told me that a month ago, maybe I would’ve been more sympathetic. But I explicitly told the district about the fundraiser when I asked where I should send the donations and they expressed no concerns back then.

I’m frustrated. I’m also sorry to everyone who donated because your money isn’t going to the park district.

Jonathan Bullington of the Chicago Tribune wrote about all of this last night:

[Anderson] said she believed Mehta’s donation was simply to make up for the loss of the veterans group’s funding. But she said that after discussing the donation with park board members, the Park District determined that Mehta’s donation was not for general programming purposes and thus should be returned.

Anderson said she discussed the donation with park board commissioners who came to her office separately and that a consensus was reached. She said Ashta was the only commissioner she did not talk to about the donation.

Ashta could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Mehta said he probably would search for a Morton Grove charity to receive the money.

“I know everyone who gave money wanted to help the Park District make up for that injustice that happened,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Park District would rather lose money than take the charity of atheists and their supporters.”

After giving this some thought, here’s what I’m doing with the money ($3,088.03): I’m sending it to the Morton Grove Public Library. The money was meant to support the people in the community, after all, and if the park district doesn’t want it, then I can think of no other place more deserving of the donation.

Once I get official word that the library has received the money, I’ll give you all an update.

In the meantime, the park district is still out $2,600/year thanks to a group of Christian activists who misinterpret patriotism and can’t see past their own privilege.

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.


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