First Amendment

Park district returns donation from atheist blogger

A Chicago-area park district has returned a $3,000 donation from an atheist blogger made after a dispute over a park commissioner’s refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Morton Grove Park District Executive Director Tracey Anderson, in an email to the would-be benefactor, said the park district “has no intention of becoming involved in a First Amendment dispute,” the Chicago Tribune reports.

Hemant Mehta, a Naperville teacher who writes a blog called Friendly Atheist, raised the money from readers to make up for a budget shortfall after an American Legion chapter withdrew financial support for the park district because one of its commissioners refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Commissioner Dan Ashta, who is also a lawyer, says placing the pledge on the commission’s agenda forces meeting attendees to stand, which violates their free speech rights.

Mehta said he was a “little shocked” by the park district’s refusal to accept the donation, because he told park officials in early November why he was raising the money. He said he would probably find another area charity to donate to.

Anderson said she decided to return the money after consulting individually with several commissioners, though not Ashta.

Ashta couldn’t be reached for comment by the Tribune.

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