MORTON GROVE, Ill. (CBS) — After a local veterans group halted donations to the Morton Grove Park District, because one board member was sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance, a Naperville teacher has begun raising funds to replace that money.
Hemant Mehta, who runs the Friendly Atheist website, said he doesn’t know if Morton Grove Park District Commissioner Dan Ashta is an atheist, but he supports what Ashta is doing.
“It’s just nice to see someone taking a lead, and drawing the heat, so that the people who attend the meeting don’t have to be the only ones to do that,” Mehta said.
Ashta has remained seated at board meetings when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, saying he’s defending the public’s First Amendment right not to participate in the pledge, for whatever reason they might have.
When the commander of the local American Legion post withdrew its $2,600 sponsorship for park district events, unless all board members stand for the pledge, Mehta stepped in.
“Not standing for the pledge doesn’t mean you’re not an American citizen, or that you’re less patriotic than someone who does stand for it,” Mehta said. “It’s a ridiculous claim to make.”
Though he’s an atheist, Mehta said the debate is not about the phrase “under God” in the pledge.
“This is just about this petty decision by the American Legion people – who were, by the way, who were doing something nice by giving the park district $2,600 so they could do some of their activities – and then basically blackmailing them, saying ‘Well, you know, we’re going to take away that money unless you do exactly what we tell you to do.’” Mehta said.
Mehta is close his goal of raising $2,600 for the Morton Grove Park District, to replace the funds American Legion Post 134 has withdrawn. As of Monday morning, he has raised $2,112, from 87 donations to his page on gofundme.com, supporting Ashta’s protest.
He said, as long as they do it legally, there are no strings attached to how the district uses the money.