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Morton Grove Library Board rejects $3K donation from atheist

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Comments on a Facebook page, including one that said “[expletive] God,” led Morton Grove Library trustees to reject a $3,000 donation that was made to support Park Board member Dan Ashta’s Pledge of Allegiance boycott.

The money was raised by atheist blogger Hemant Mehta after American Legion Post 134 vowed to withhold its $2,600 in funding until all Park Board members stood for the pledge.

Mehta, a Naperville resident, said he wanted to thank Ashta for protecting the First Amendment and advocating for a separation of church and state. The Park Board, however, returned the check explaining that it did not want to get involved in a political or religious dispute.

Mehta then sent a check to the Morton Grove Library stating a desire to help the same community.

After a heated debate Dec. 19, the Library Board voted 5-2 to turn the money away.

“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, though they didn’t say the decision was influenced by the park district, American Legion or getting tangled in a First Amendment dispute.

“How do we know that this guy didn’t return the money and cut us a $3,000 check out of his own personal account?” asked board President Mark Albers in explaining why he would accept the donation. “We don’t know that, so this debate holds no water.”

Trustee Arthur Goldstein, who also voted to accept the donation, was quick to support Albers.

“Why would we turn down a check that we could use in any way we want?” Goldstein said. “There are no conditions or stipulations.”

That’s when the debate became heated.

“No. 2 [reason], they’re a hate group,” Peters said of her motivation to reject the money.

Peters then read a couple of the religiously-inflammatory and expletive-ridden comments posted on Mehta’s Friendly Athiest Facebook Page.

“Would you take money from the Klan?” Peters asked Goldstein.

“If it came with no restrictions, ‘yes,’” Goldstein replied. “I wouldn’t spend it for that purpose. I’d give it to a good cause.”

Visibly disturbed, trustees Berg and David Calimag demanded a roll call. Only Albers and Goldstein voted to accept the donation.

After the vote, Mehta said he’s frustrated over how difficult giving $3,000 away could be, and accused the library trustees of making excuses.

“I get 2,000 comments a day and don’t always look through all of them,” Mehta 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 said he is not sure what to do with the $3,000 he intended to donate, and will take some time to think about it.

Also during the meeting, Peters disclosed that she exercised her right as the library treasurer earlier in the week to prevent Albers from cashing the $3,000 check.

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