Remember the $3,000 We Raised That the Morton Grove Park District Rejected? Well, the Library Doesn’t Want It, Either

I have an unbelievable update about the money we raised for the people of Morton Grove, Illinois near the bottom of this post. Really, you won’t believe how this thing is shaking out.

In case you want the full story, though, I’m going to repost much of what I’ve written before:

Back in October, I posted about how the American Legion Post 134 was financially boycotting the Morton Grove 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 inquiring about the donation.

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

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.

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

[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 it some thought, I decided to send the money ($3,088.03) to the Morton Grove Public Library. The money was meant to support the people in the community, after all, and if the park district didn’t want it, then the library seemed deserving of the donation.

Okay, that was more than two weeks ago.

Last night, the Morton Grove Public Library board of trustees held its monthly board meeting and the question of how to handle the donation was on the agenda. (Whether that occurs for every significant donation, I don’t know.)

After the meeting ended, I got a couple of phone calls from people who had knowledge of what took place and they told me that the board had rejected the money.

Seriously.

I asked the callers what reasons trustees offered and they said there were two main ones:

1) The board members were unhappy with things random commenters had written on this site’s Facebook page.

Between this site and Facebook, I easily get more than a thousand comments a day. I don’t sit around reading all of them. I rely on readers to flag things that are inappropriate, as do most large websites, and I focus on writing content.

To punish me (and the donors) for comments made by complete strangers makes as much sense as someone criticizing Pastor Mark Driscoll for things his Twitter followers write. It just makes no sense. Any journalist or blogger knows damn well that comment threads are not reflections of the writers. We may set the tone but we can’t turn off the trolls.

2) The board members felt there was something unsavory about taking money that donors were told would go to the Park District.

After the Park District rejected the money, I made very clear on this site that I would be giving the money to the library.

Not a single donor voiced any disappointment with that decision. The money was always supposed to benefit the people of Morton Grove. That’s why people donated. If the Park District didn’t want to be the conduit, then the library seemed to be a perfectly acceptable alternative for everyone.

So, those were the board’s excuses. I firmly believe that if the money came from the “Friendly Christian,” none of this would be an issue. The “A” word is just freaking everybody out.

The Chicago Tribune reported on this story late last night and filled in some more of the details — and it turns out the story gets even worse:

Following a fiery debate that pitted Morton Grove Library trustees against one another, the board voted 5-2 not to accept a donation of roughly $3,000 from an atheist blogger.

Library Board of Trustees Treasurer Catherine Peters said she stopped library staff from depositing the check earlier this month, calling it a matter that should be voted on by the board.

many board members were more alarmed by the nature of the Mehta’s blog and the ethical implications accepting money from him might pose.

Peters referred to the blog as a “hate group” and read aloud several comments made by readers of the blog.

Today I learned that every website that allows comments is a potential “hate group.”

I appreciated how one commenter put it on the Tribune‘s website:

A ‘hate group’ called the Friendly Atheist, that raises money for libraries.

By the way, the only “ethical implication” of accepting money from atheists is that you get money. It’s not like we make you bow at our feet and renounce Jesus before signing the check.

*Sigh*

I’ll keep searching for a deserving, uncontroversial recipient. There has to be a local organization benefitting the entire Morton Grove community that wants this money, right?

Don’t answer that. Commenting on this thread is the official initiation into the Friendly Atheist Hate Group.

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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