The controversy began when Park Commissioner Dan Ashta refused to to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a board meeting because, he told the Morton Grove Champion, he believes the words “one nation under God” violate the First Amendment separation of church and state, and “I have an obligation as an elected official to uphold the Constitution.”
American Legion Post 134, which typically donated $2,600 to the Parks District, responded by saying it “will be withholding funds from the park district until such time that everyone rises for the pledge.” Post 134 believes that sitting during the Pledge is “disrespectful to all veterans that have been willing to sacrifice their lives for this country and it is a great dishonor to all servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and died for this country.”
At this point, “Friendly Atheist” Mehta solicited donations from his readers to make up for the shortfall, successfully raising $3,044.06. He sent the Morton Grove Park District a check in this amount on November 12, but as of November 21 the check had not been cashed.
Eventually, Mehta learned that the check would not be cashed because the Parks District “did not want to get involved in a political or religious dispute.”
Mehta then sent the donation to the Morton Grove Library, but during a heated debate on December 19, the library’s trustees voted 5-2 to reject his donation.
At first, the trustees claimed they couldn’t accept the donation because it couldn’t accept money in bad faith. “People gave money to the park district, not the library,” Trustee Barbara Novick said. “Sure I want the money, but I don’t know if it would be ethical to accept money that wasn’t intended for us to begin with.” Trustees Paul Berg and Cathy Peters agreed with Novick’s reasoning, but then Peters went one step further.
The “number two reason,” she said of her motivations behind turning down the donation, is that “they’re a hate group.”
She then proceeded to read inflammatory comments from Mehta’s Friendy Atheist Facebook page.
“Would you take money from the Klan?” Peters then asked. At which point, the trustees voted to reject the donation.
Mehta expressed frustration at the trustees’ reasoning, accusing them of looking for an excuse to reject his donation. “I get 2,000 comments a day and don’t always look through all of them,” he said. “Anyone who operates a forum understands that. I stand by my own posts, but them being bothered by random comments is a weak argument.”
Mehta is unsure as to what he will do with the $3,000 he is having such difficulty giving away.
[Library With Books on Shutterstock]