A curious tale of prayer, guns, fraud and the Bald Knob Cross

COOK County, Illinois, Green Party Chairman and talk show host Rob Sherman, who runs the crusading website www.robsherman.com, is an atheist with a reputation for challenging public spending on religious projects.

Rob Sherman

Rob Sherman

Earlier this year he petitioned the US Supreme Court to take up a case against the state of Illinois over a grant it gave for the restoration of the Bald Knob Cross of Peace in Alto Pass.

Sherman is contesting a $20,000 Illinois Department of Commerce and Economy Opportunity grant the agency gave to the board of directors overseeing renovation of the 111-foot cross in 2008 on grounds it violated separation of church and state laid out in the US Constitution.

He will know by June 30, 2013 whether the court will deliver an opinion.

The Bald Knob Cross, pictured after it was polished up with taxpayers' dollars

The Bald Knob Cross, pictured after it was polished up with taxpayers’ dollars

In February this year, Sherman drew attention to the fact that State Representative LaShawn Ford voted to send a grant of $500,000 Christ the King Jesuit College Preparatory School, a Roman Catholic parochial high school on the West Side of Chicago, for a new building. He pointed out that LaShawn is a Member of the Board of Trustees of Christ the King.

I spoke to LaShawn last month. I asked him if he thought that there was a conflict of interest in him voting to send money to an organization at which he is on the Board of Directors and, if not, why not.  LaShawn, who was a co-sponsor of the unconstitutional Student Prayer Act that I successfully challenged in federal court, replied that there was no conflict of interest and that the reason he voted for the Grant was ‘Because the community needed it’.

Now, it’s certainly possible that his community needed a more modern educational institution, and that public funds are appropriate for such a need, but those funds should be spent on building a public school, not a parochial school.  Children should not be forced to endure religious indoctrination as a condition for receiving taxpayer support for their education.

LaShawn also voted to send a Grant of $140,000 to Saint Martin de Porres Roman Catholic Church, also on the West Side of Chicago, for “general infrastructure”.  LaShawn is on both the Parish Council and the Finance Council of St. Martin de Porres Church, where his primary job is to raise money for the church. Said Sherman:

LaShawn helped pass a law forcing atheists throughout Illinois, like me, to donate to his church, rather than persuading the rapidly dwindling number of members of his own church to donate to it.

Lashawn Ford

LaShawn Ford

Ford, 40, a property developer who serves the 8th District of Illinois, was back on the news in November when he was indicted on federal bank fraud and related charges for allegedly fraudulently obtaining a $500,000 increase and a two-year extension on a line of credit from the failed ShoreBank and obtaining multiple advances by making false statements about his intended use of the funds.

He purportedly obtained bank funds to rehabilitate specific investment properties in the city but instead used the funds to pay unrelated expenses, including car loans; credit cards; other mortgages held at ShoreBank; payments to a casino in Hammond, Indiana; and for his 2006 campaign for Illinois State Representative.

And he’s back in the news again, this time for suggesting that prayer would be the “magic bullet” that might stop future shooting tragedies in schools.

Following the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Ford told a group of preachers that he believes they need to work to get prayer back in school. He said:

We need to make sure that we get prayer back in schools in some form or fashion.

He said that if prayer is not restored, students should at least be able to have religious symbolism in the classroom.

[We need] some kind of way that we can have symbols or whatever in the schools, so that students can feel that there is something that they can attach to, so that when they feel weak, they can go to the symbols, whether it’s Jesus Christ or someone that they believe in.

His suggestion went down like a lead balloon. None of the ministers present supported his idea. One told Ford that prayer in school is “not a priority” for the preachers.

In September, Ford announced that he supported the right of individuals to carry concealed weapons in Illinois.

He said he was prepared to become the first black legislator from the city to vote for a concealed carry law — if sponsors of the bill will add a provision requiring the National Rifle Association to pay for sensitivity training for police officers.

Speaking at a public meeting, he said he believed a majority of his constituents want the right to own a gun.

Black people want guns, and I know that sounds bad. They’re saying we’re making criminals out of law-abiding citizens. They’re saying you’re only siding with the criminals because the criminals could care less about the law.

Among those who agreed with Ford was a retired Oak Park police officer who got big applause by telling the crowd:

God created man, and Smith & Wesson created all men equal.