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Question of the day

Thursday, May 27, 2010 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The setup

A Chicago-area atheist activist isn’t happy that $20,000 in state money is going to an 11-story cross on southern Illinois’ highest point, and he wants the landmark’s overseers to give the money back or be sued.

Atheist Rob Sherman has told the group Friends of Bald of Knob Cross that a religious symbol getting taxpayer money is inappropriate. […]

The 47-year-old cross near Alto Pass is undergoing a renovation expected to be completed this summer.

* The Question: Is this an appropriate use of state money? Explain.


  1. - Montrose - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:34 pm:

    Absolutely not. It is about as clear cut as it can get. What possible justification is there for public dollars paying going towards the repairing a huge cross?

  2. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:36 pm:

    Probably not. But I can’t understand why Sherman is jumping on the Cross people. Isn’t his beef with the state? I mean, the state handed out the money. They should be the ones to take it back, if indeed that is what needs to be done.

  3. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:38 pm:

    BTW, the money isn’t for repairing the cross, it’s to promote tourism to the cross.

  4. - Soooo... - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:38 pm:

    If this cross is bringing in revenue to the area from tourists travelling specifically to see it, then yes. Otherwise, it is absolutely inappropriate. Separation of church and state, people. I am a very strong Christian, but faith, religion and its symbols should not be mixed with politics.

  5. - Amuzing Myself - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:38 pm:

    That cross is a HUGE tourist attraction in that part of the state, generating a lot of sales tax revenue and business in an often-economically depressed part of the state. I don’t find it any more inappropriate than many of the social service agencies run by religious-affiliated groups that receive state grants to take care of the less fortunate, which one could argue actually SAVES the state money by assisting rather than running those agencies.

  6. - Soooo... - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:39 pm:

    Deep South, you seem like you are from the area. Was it bringing in tourism before?

  7. - TaxMeMore - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:40 pm:

    No. That is unless that are going to start throwing an equal amount of taxpayer money at putting up 11 story festivus polls and giant spaghetti monster statutes.

    Where is the lowest point in the state? Can I have $20,000 to put up an 11 story tall cannabis plant to worship the Hindu goddess Shiva?

    Who appropriated that money? Are they not aware of the financial condition of this state? They need every $20,000 they can find to help pay down the pension debt.

  8. - siriusly - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:40 pm:

    If Deep South is correct, then I don’t think Sherman has a leg to stand on. Promoting tourism is a valid state expenditure. Repairing a cross is not.

  9. - John Bambenek - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:42 pm:

    The capital bill is full of projects that have no right to public funds. Why signal out a religious group for special indignation?

    I’d rather we use public funds for public purposes and anything other than that, religious or not, shouldn’t get money.

  10. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:43 pm:

    The cross is in Alto Pass…but a lot of things in Alto Pass bring in tourists, including wineries. But I’m sure the cross brings in a lot of folks, too. There’s always a big crowd there on Easter morning.

  11. - matt - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:44 pm:

    Tourism, revenue, or benefits that can be gained are absolutely irrelevant to this on-face violation. There is no excuse. It was a mistake to give them that money.

  12. - Downstate - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:44 pm:

    The official public purpose of the grant was to boost the state’s economy. In this case, it’s through helping to restore one of Southern Illinois’ oldest and most visited tourist attractions over the decades.

    The Bald Knob Cross of Peace has been a site that’s attraction hundreds of thousands of tourists since it was built in 1959. In recent years it had deteriorated to the point that falling panels were endangering persons visiting.

    The crazy thing about Sherman’s complaint is that the grant is over and the money spent.

  13. - WRMNPolitics - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:46 pm:

    In the broadest sense, due to the tourism component, it is appropriate. This does bring a further question of whether this is the highest and best use of limited capital fund money and have other projects which have more impact to the area not been funded ?

  14. - Montrose - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:47 pm:

    *BTW, the money isn’t for repairing the cross, it’s to promote tourism to the cross.*

    I think we need some clarification the article does not give. It just says “state money,” but I assumed we are talking capital dollars because of the reference to the repair.

    That being said, if it is for tourism promotion, there is more gray area.

  15. - the Other Anonymous - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:48 pm:

    Let’s put aside the question of whether this is a constitutional use of state money — I think it isn’t, but a conservative Supreme Court might change precedent and disagee. The question is, if it’s constitutional, is it a good idea?

    In these tight budgetary times, it’s hard to justify grants like these to an organization that doesn’t provide some relief from the pressure to provide social services by the state. The theory of exempting charities from taxation is that they provide a service that otherwise would be paid for by government. I think the same standard, at least in these times, should apply to state grants. The cross doesn’t relieve any burden of providing services.

  16. - TaxMeMore - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:49 pm:

    Give me $20,000 to build an 11 story tall cannabis plant to honor the Hindu goddess Shiva and I’ll bring in tourists too. Why are they allowed to fund one brand of religious tourism over another brand of religious tourism?

  17. - VanillaMan - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:49 pm:

    $20,000 is not much. We don’t need tax money going to this. It should be raised by the millions of us who attend church and pray for the souls of people like Rob Sherman.

    But you know what guys like Rob Sherman are going to do next, right? Whine. And whine. And keep whining until every public symbol he finds offensive is removed.

    Sherman’s religion is the hatred of other people’s religion. He is one of their missionaries. God bless him for his obsession.

  18. - Michelle Flaherty - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:57 pm:

    As a child my parents would take me to see the cross in Alto Pass and I thought it was the capital T from The Adventures of Letterman on the Electric Company, the one Letterman could jump in a single bound.

  19. - Skirmisher - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:58 pm:

    I recall under the Bilk Illinois program we gave money to pave church parking lots and replace church roofs. Illinois goverment rarely concerns itself with questions of appropriate use of funds, one of many reasons why we are in this mess. The “Tourism” scam for the Bald Knob Cross is just that: A scam.

  20. - Vole - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 12:58 pm:

    No. It is not appropriate. People who want to see the cross can use our public roadways that we already support with our taxes. Those who want to see it will without the state prompting their actions. Come on!

    This illustrates but one small piece of spending that is not necessary. Quinn has stated that all unnecessary spending has to go. When are he and his agency heads going to get serious about doing it? We need more citizens like Rob Sherman to spotlight such needless spending. Some of these agencies still have the bucks and are profligately clueless about spending it. They got it and are sending out messages to the staff to get those invoices in while other areas in real need are shorted.

  21. - Ghost - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:00 pm:

    I have no problem using the money to pormote tourism if it is a tourist draw.

  22. - Park - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:02 pm:

    Seems like an odd state expenditure, but if people in the area think its important, $20,000 isn’t that much. And, according to some of the postings above, its a big attraction.

    The Rob Shermans of the world just keep looking for attention. He should find a hobby.

  23. - HW - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:03 pm:

    The site of that cross is probably the most amazing piece of real estate in Illinois. In the fall, it has a view that almost seems impossibly beautiful. I live in Southern Illinois but had never visited the cross until a couple of years ago.

    If it is inappropriate to support this site as a tourist attraction, then any state involvement in promoting tourism in Illinois should be considered inappropriate.

  24. - rhymin' simon - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:07 pm:

    $20,000 for the cross is a great deal. I mean, what would get if you just threw that money away to reimburse some organization that wastes it on, you know, supporting a developmentally disabled kid or keeping some senior citizen out of a nursing home.

    Um, wait a second. Let me get back to you on that.

  25. - jaded voter - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:08 pm:

    The state probably shouldn’t have funded the installation of the Cross. But it is done now. If the atheist wants it down so bad let him remove it or pay for it himself.

    He can also deal with the problems of antagonizing a large portion of that regions populace.

    You can be pretty sure the atheist is a jag.

  26. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:11 pm:

    If it’s for road upkeep, sure. If it’s for the cross, no. The story of how the Bald Knob cross was originally built and paid for is an excellent and inspiring example of community action.

    Getting state money to fix it is counter to both the concept of keeping religion free from government intrusion as well as the community action that purchased the land and built the cross.

    The story is here:

  27. - Thomas Westgard - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:12 pm:

    It’s okay with me, as long as an equal amount of money is spent on erecting a statute, right next to it, of the giant talking rectum from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. ‘Cause hey, that’s the symbol I want to see subsidized, and it has cultural and historical significance to a lot of people.

  28. - Vole - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:16 pm:

    The fact that Rob Sherman is an atheist is irrelevant. Our state government does not know the meaning of getting tight with a dollar. Those of us out here who have been in positions of having to severely tighten the belt while living on savings and little income know what frugality is all about and are trying to instill that virtue in our state governmental representatives. But the idea is simply flying over their heads. This illustrates the point.

  29. - Bring Back Boone's - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:16 pm:

    No it is not.

  30. - Dream Weaver - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:18 pm:

    I love Rob Sherman. He was part of a protest at my high school 20 years ago re: a ban on book led by a conservation faith-based group of parents. Nice to see him still active in keeping a clear line separated between church and state.

  31. - Frank - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:21 pm:

    If the excuse is that it is for promoting tourism, I am against this even more. Seems to me that the state using money to promote tourism to a religious attraction is an egregious violation of the separation of church and state and an endorsement of religion.

    These people would have found a way to raise $20,000 to keep their cross if it was that important to them.

  32. - Excessively Rabid - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:21 pm:

    I hate the amount of time spent arguing about what the argument’s about. I wish the author had realized it’s material what the money is for, and found that out. But nooo. Promoting tourism is OK, putting up or maintaining a religious symbol is not. BTW, the constitution guarantees freedom of, not from, religion. And I spend a lot of time in church, but fail to see why people must be so annoyingly public about their displays of belief (or non-belief). Bunch of Pharisees.

  33. - Christian - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:22 pm:

    You can’t claim to be a Christian or religious if you talk about separation of church and state. Either you are a believer and evangilizer or you are not. They are one in the same.

  34. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:24 pm:

    Here’s a better account of the issue. I may have misspoke when I said the money went to promote tourism and didn’t go for the renovation. In any event, I still have to wonder why Sherman isn’t going after the state. I mean you win that battle once and you’re done. Otherwise he’s gonna have to go after each individual incident as they come up. Weird.

  35. - John Bambenek - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:25 pm:

    It’s a separation of church and state, not religion and state. They aren’t the same.

  36. - Christian - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:31 pm:

    It’s a separation of church and state, not religion and state. They aren’t the same

    So John, under that logic a group of religious neighbors not operating a state could get money for the cross but an organized church could not?

  37. - Bring Back Boone's - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:33 pm:

    that’s insanely idiotic.

  38. - Frank - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:35 pm:

    “You can’t claim to be a Christian or religious if you talk about separation of church and state. Either you are a believer and evangilizer or you are not. They are one in the same.”

    Says who? God? There are many ways to be religious and still talk about separation of church and state

  39. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:36 pm:

    If I were in charge of the cross, I would not want a penny from the State. With State money, comes State intrusion. Whoever pays the piper gets to call the tune. Do the Bald Knob folks really want the State to step in and make requests for accommodation?

    The establishment clause is meant to keep government fingers out of religion.

    Why do you think the folks around Alto Pass in the 1940 and 50’s raised their own money and bought the land and then in the 1950’s raised pigs for Wayman Presley? They wanted to pay for their own monument. No government involvement.

  40. - Jake from Elwood - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:40 pm:

    Rob Sherman is a spotlight-hogging, whiny, hatred-filled little weasel.
    But he is right on this one.

  41. - Commonsense in Illinois - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:45 pm:

    Mr. Sherman has quite a cross to bear….sorry.

  42. - Christian - Thursday May 27, 2010 - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:48 pm:

    I have visited the Knob Hill Cross once and was very inspired by the knowledge that it took to build this Cross in such a way that you can drive for 50 miles from any direction and still see it. I would hate to think that my grandchildren would never get a chance to see such an acomplishment of intelligence and insight. May God bless every penny of that expenditure for generations to come.

  43. - Heartless Libertarian - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:52 pm:

    Sure it is fine. What should our policy be? We promote all historical landmarks… well unless somehow religion is involved with it. This money is promoting and preserving a landmark. As an agnostic, I really don’t care what your religion is… but history is history. And we should make an effort to be fair to all landmarks regardless of religious beliefs.

    And keep in mind that the state ran the Jubilee College historical site… which was an episcopal seminary…. So, I guess to summarize my point…. Our history is more important than your religious beliefs.

  44. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:55 pm:

    I’m with Mr. Kettle…If I were with the cross people, I want to give the money back. End of any possible government interference…and the athiests would go away. I think the cross people have done an excellent fund-raising job and can afford to let go of the 20K.

  45. - El Conquistador - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:56 pm:

    Well said HL.

    The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It does not say there there is to be absolutely no interaction between government and faith-based groups. The government is only charged with using an even hand when addressing faith. It cannot promote one faith or religion at the expense of another. The government can support the preservation of an historic Cross in Southern Illinois, just as it can the preservation of an historically significant mosque or synagogue or Quaker meeting house or anything else. And I would certainly support that, just not when the state is unable to fulfill its obligations for much more basic services. The support of Bald Knob Cross was not in and of itself inappropriate, but the time of the grant was certainly inappropriate.

  46. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:57 pm:

    === Is this an appropriate use of state money? ===

    We have money?

    No. And even if we did have money, it’s not only inappropriate, the Cross doesn’t need any advertising. Its the largest Cross in the freakin Western Hemisphere.

  47. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:58 pm:

    Oh….why are the anti-government types so against the separation of church and state? How does that make sense? Isn’t that like being against abortion but for the death penalty? What am I missing?

  48. - Heartless Libertarian - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:05 pm:

    I am not anti-government, I am anti-overreaching government. I don’t see historical conservation as something frivolous. Though, I do see the government gaining control over my body via “the common good” something to be concerned about. But I guess some people can’t see the difference between what is good about the government and what is bad. It is all good, isn’t Deep South?

  49. - Captain Flume - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:06 pm:

    There is (or was, it’s been a while since I drove that way) a large green sign on I55 for the Lady of the Snows shrine, which also seems like public money spent on tourism, or pilgrimage, to a religious location. That has always seemed inappropriate.

  50. - persnickety - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:08 pm:


    “You can’t claim to be a Christian or religious if you talk about separation of church and state.”

    Perhaps you should read Matthew 22:21 before making such a broad statement.

  51. - Rich Miller - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:11 pm:

    Stick to the question, please.

  52. - Justice - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:21 pm:

    Are churches still tax exempt? In a unique way our tax dollars are supporting those who do not pay taxes, i.e. the churches. In this case we overtly support religion by using tax dollars to pay for the cross directly. Which is the greater of the two evils?

    Probably should not fund the cross. Then we should move toward relieving the churches, mosques, and synagogues of their tax exempt status.

  53. - Excessively Rabid - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:34 pm:

    JB has a point - they were talking about not having an established church. Dubious that any of the FF or many if any other national leaders before the mid 20th century would have foreseen this discussion. Lucky them.

  54. - Segatari - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:42 pm:

    If Sherman can prove Illinois is trying to establish a State Church of Illinois or a Federal Church of the United States he may have a case…but this reeks of christophobia and there is no push anywhere to create a state run church.

  55. - Deep South - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:50 pm:

    Mr. Libertarian….I’m just saying that it appears to me that if you want less government, you would support keeping religion out of government and government out of religion.

  56. - Vote Quimby! - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 2:58 pm:

    When I was on a city council in charge of hotel/motel tax money, a church requested a sum to help with a conferenece that brought 100 out-of-towners in. Another councilman asked the same question: is a church appropriate? I argued its fulfilling the purpose of filling the hotels—much more so than Christmas (oops, holiday) lights, fireworks and other requests which benefitted locals more.
    In this case, it depends on the fund the $20K came from…promoting tourism you don’t care if they come for religious reasons, you just want them spending money.
    It’s NOT the largest cross in the western hemisphere…not even in southern Illinois: a much larger (privately built) one is on I-57/70 in Effingham.

  57. - Vote Quimby! - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 3:01 pm:

    And the state of disrepair it was allowed to fall into speaks volumes about how bad conditions are in Li’l Egypt…

  58. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 3:03 pm:

    The establishment clause of the First Amendment prohibits Congress from creating a national religion or preferring one religion over another. It does not prohibit the government’s entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause and for other purposes. Recent SCOTUS cases have affirmed the right of the government to fund a “religious activity” (busing to parochial schools) if that activity is not strictly associated with a particular religion. In the case of the busing funding, the school did not restrict admittance to Catholics only. Like the case of the busing, this funding is not tied to a particular religion - anyone can go to see this cross whether part of a religion or an atheist or whatever, so the funding per se is not unconstitutional.

    That said, why in the he double hockey sticks are we spending money on this, or any equivalent, project when the state is going belly up? It is time to look at all spending, and to eliminate such unnecessary spending.

  59. - TwoFeetThick - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 3:22 pm:

    Totally not appropriate. And, to those who feel it is, I assume. you would also have no problem if the state gave some group money to repair a giant monument dedicated to Lord Satan, right? I didn’t think so.

  60. - Cheryl44 - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 3:26 pm:

    Maybe we should tax the churches and use some of that money on this.

  61. - Ghost of John Brown - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 3:29 pm:

    Nope, nope, nope.

    EVEN if we were flush with cash, it is inappropriate. Added to the fact that we are swimming in red ink, all non-essential expenditures should be on the chopping block or at least looked at. I think it is pretty clear that this non-essential. No funding for churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, crosses, new office equipment for not-for-profits, no murals, no public artwork, etc., etc.

    We need to pay for essentials. It’s like my home budget. I’d love to go out and buy a 2nd big-screen TV, but the money isn’t there. I need to buy groceries, mortgage payment, insurance, etc. - just the essentials.

  62. - SoIl M - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 4:17 pm:

    I believe that the State should not be giving money to the Friends of the Cross, for the same reasons that I dont believe the State should have given Millions of Dollars to Churches and Church related organizations in the Chicago area or anywhere else in the State. And yes, I am a Christian, and yes I have visited the Cross many times, and do look forward to it being restored. I just do not want to see my money being taken from me and given to the cross, or any other of these projects. I have donated to the Friends of the Cross, but did so because I chose to do so, not because I was forced to, as the State is forcing all of us to do. Remember that this is Our money, yours, mine, and all taxpayers of the State. Only when our elected officials stop giving our money out all over the state in order to get themselves re-elected, can this State be trusted with more of our money. Also, if you object to money for this project how do you defend money to other projects, or vice versa. You can not sit with your hand out, and complain about other peoples hands getting filled at the same time.

  63. - Soooo... - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 4:19 pm:

    Um, To CHRISTIAN: yes I can. Apparently you haven’t read the bible. Check out the parable where Jesus discussed with a man that offerings go to God, but separately we must respect and pay taxes to the Government. “What is God’s is God’s, what is caesar’s is caesar’s.” That is just one example. Thanks for thinking you could attack me and say I am not a Christian, since you are the right hand of God and all.

    Sorry, Rich. Didn’t mean to start a religious argument here.

  64. - Soooo... - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 4:26 pm:

    Great Answer, SoIl M!

  65. - MrJM - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 5:19 pm:

    It is inappropriate.

    If the Good Lord won’t help Friends of Bald of Knob Cross renovate their cross, it’s certainly not the business of the state of Illinois.

    – MrJM

  66. - cover - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 6:14 pm:

    Most commenters are getting lost in the ambiguity of the US Constitution’s 1st Amendment, and missing the clear direction of the Illinois Constitution.

    From Article X, Section 3:
    “Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose”…

    If a cross is not a sectarian purpose, what is? Mr. Sherman may rub a lot of people the wrong way, but he’s absolutely correct here. There’s no way this expenditure of state funds - whether from general funds or dedicated tourism funds - should have been permitted.

  67. - wordslinger - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 6:26 pm:

    No, not at all.

    Who’s the chump, here, anyway? A cross. Unless it’s made out of diamonds, I’ll take the contract for 10 grand.

    How hard is it to cross a couple of pieces of wood?

  68. - Oh please.... - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 7:15 pm:

    Absolutely not.

  69. - Mountain Man - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 10:58 pm:

    “- Christian - Thursday, May 27, 10 @ 1:22 pm:

    You can’t claim to be a Christian or religious if you talk about separation of church and state. Either you are a believer and evangilizer or you are not. They are one in the same.”

    That is a rather bold assertion, there wouldn’t you say? Try this: You can’t be an American and be opposed to the wall erected by our forefathers that separates Church and State. Both are equally silly…and neither change the fact that you are an American by birth who opposes separation of church and state and I am a Christian by confession who supports it.

    To the original question, the state is flat broke, so fiscally it is irresponsible expenditure at this time. But, even if we were flush with cash, it is an unconstitutional expenditure. If this cross is bringing so much money into the area as others have suggested, then let those businesses cough up a couple hundred dollars each to repair it…

  70. - the Patriot - Friday, May 28, 10 @ 7:41 am:

    Please try to analyze some facts. 1. The grant was in 2008 not 2010. We were not in great shape then, but the current buget problem is irrelevant to a grant from 2 years ago.

    2. ==If the Good Lord won’t help Friends of Bald of Knob Cross renovate their cross==The Good Lord is going to raise about 500k in individual donations for the cross, so 20k from the state is not a big deal.

    3. It is much bigger for tourism than winersis. 3-5,000, people will visit the cross on one day for Blessing of the bikes each spring. If the weather is nice, it is the biggest event in Southern IL.

    4. The state is not establishing religion by providing a grant for a drop in the bucket of the total cost of the renovation. The state funds programs that benfit religious organizations all the time. Before I no way on this, I would look around your town for programs and organizations that have religious affiliations that recieve state funding. The Cross is being targeted because of it symbolism.

    The separation between church and state is intened to prohibit the state from infringing on the free exercise of religious freedom, not to serve as a prohibition from the State having any involvement to religion.

    The establishment clause is where the question becomes to whether the state trying to establish a religion. Chipping in less then 4% of the cost to renovate a landmark, religious or not, is not establishment of a religion.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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