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The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments Wednesday in Sherman v. State of Illinois, better known as the Bald Knob Cross case. Rob Sherman, famous in the Midwest for his separation of church and state challenges, brought the claim to contest a $20,000 state grant allocated to restore the 11-story cross.
The Bald Knob Cross - built with area farmers’ profits from selling pigs - was erected on Bald Knob Mountain in 1959. Easter services have been held on the mountain since 1937.
Cross caretakers insist that the grant was legal because the Bald Knob Cross of Peace is classified as a tourist attraction, not a religious symbol, with as many as 1,000 visitors stopping by the landmark in a single weekend, reports The Huffington Post.
Sherman, on the other hand, says that using taxpayer money for the project is unconstitutional, and wants the group to return the grant money to the state.
U.S. District Judge Michael McCuskey dismissed Sherman's lawsuit in February, ruling the grant was made by the state's executive branch and wasn't a designated legislative "earmark" as Sherman alleged. The judge also said the state's economic-development agency has discretion in how it doles out its money, reports Southeast Missourian.
Crosses have been a popular topic in legal news lately, between the Supreme Court denying cert this week in the Utah Highway Cross case, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that San Diego's Mount Soledad cross violated the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court unwilling clarify application of the three-part Lemon/endorsement test in religious display Establishment Clause matters.
The question remains: How will the Bald Knob Cross restoration grant fare under the Seventh Circuit's Lemon analysis?
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