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Supreme Court rejects atheist appeal over cross

ST. LOUIS — The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected without comment 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.

The nation’s high court on Tuesday declined to review Robert Sherman’s request to hear his case involving the $20,000 grant given in 2008 to the 111-foot-high Bald Knob Cross of Peace near Alto Pass. Lower courts already had ruled that Sherman lacked standing to sue over the grant.

Sherman sued in August 2010, arguing that efforts to repair the cross using state money have “the primary effect of advancing a particular religious sect, namely Christianity.” He noted that the grant came from a $5 million pot of money that the state Legislature channeled to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Sherman insisted that the grant was a legislative earmark — not a discretionary allocation from the executive branch — and therefore violated the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion.