Thursday, January 16, 2014

142.4 - A personal aside

A personal aside

On a bit of a personal aside, you could consider this an update of something I talked about last week.

Last week, I mentioned being an atheist and how I resent being told that because of that I can't experience wonder at or be awed by the majesty and beauty of existence and nature.

In the course of that, I mentioned that as an atheist I'm a member of a community that faces prejudice. Not legal prejudice, no, but yes, social prejudice. By coincidence, the day after I did the show I came across an example so I decided to share it.

It starts with the fact that the Morton Grove Park District, of Morton Grove, Illinois, had a problem.

Last fall, American Legion Post 134 pulled all of its funding - $2600 a year - from the park district because one member of Park Commission, Dan Ashta, refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance. Ashta said he was doing it to make the point that no one should feel compelled to stand, but the Legion was having none of it. While admitting, "with some regret" - and that's a quote, admitting "with some regret" - that, yes, Ashta had the right to not stand, the Post said it wouldn't contribute any more until either Ashta stands or he is off the board.
In response, a local teacher named Hemant Mehta, who runs a blog called The Friendly Atheist, asked his readers to contribute to make up the loss. He raised $3000.

But when he tried to deliver the check to the Park District, it was rejected.

In an email to Mehta, Park District Executive Director Tracey Anderson said the board "has no intention of becoming embroiled in a First Amendment dispute" and that the board does not want to appear "sympathetic to," or show a perceived position for or against, "any particular political or religious cause," a difficulty which does not seem to arise with the American Legion.

So Mehta tried to give the money to the Morton Grove Library. They, too, refused to accept the donation, with one trustee, Cathy Peters, labeling Mehta's blog "a hate group" and likened it to the KKK based on a scattering of inflammatory anti-religion comments among the 2,000 a day that go up on Mehta's Facebook page. Not based, I note just to make the point, on anything Mehta wrote.

After two months and those two rejections, the $3,000 donation was accepted by a third group: the Niles Township Food Pantry. Niles Township Clerk Charles Levy said the check came in as a contribution and it was deposited with the other contributions that came in. Which is exactly how the Morton Grove Park District and the Morton Grove Library should have handled it. But even at that, Niles Township Supervisor Lee Tamraz expressed concern that other donors would pull funding, thinking the pantry was making some kind of political or religious statement by accepting a donation from an atheist.

Mehta said at one point “I can’t believe how hard it is” to give away the money. You want to know the truth? I can.


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