Atheist who fought Illinois laws dies in small plane crash

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2016 11:14 PM

MARENGO, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois man who was one of the better-known atheists in the country and an activist for keeping religious and government affairs separate died in a plane crash last week, officials said Monday.

The McHenry County coroner said an autopsy Monday revealed that Robert I. Sherman, 63, of Poplar Grove, died from multiple crash injuries. Authorities said Sherman was piloting a small plane that crashed into a cornfield either Friday night or Saturday morning. The crash is under investigation.

Sherman was an outspoken atheist and critic of using state money for religious purposes and having religious displays in public spaces. He also hosted a radio show and ran for public office several times.

"He was a proud fighter for religious freedom and the separation of church and state. He was a great activist and a great person," David Silverman, president of American Atheists Inc., said in an email to the Chicago Tribune. "I've flown with him in that very plane when he gave me a tour of Chicago. He loved that plane and loved flying it."

Legal challenges he filed included a 1989 lawsuit over an Illinois law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He said the words "under God" contained in the pledge were unconstitutional.

In 2007, he and his daughter, Dawn, sued over a state law requiring schools to have a moment of silence.

Sherman also took a case to the U.S. Supreme Court involving a 2008 state grant that went toward restoring an 11-story cross in southern Illinois known as the Bald Knob Cross of Peace.

Sherman was behind a 2002 federal lawsuit complaining that it was unconstitutional to read a prayer at a Sept. 11 memorial service hosted by Chicago's mayor. A federal judge ruled against him.

In 2008, Sherman sued to stop then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to give a $1 million state grant to help Pilgrim Baptist Church, a historic landmark on Chicago's South Side that had been badly damaged by fire.

A Green Party candidate for Congress this year who had already announced for 2018, Sherman ran for state representative in 2006 and 2008, for Buffalo Grove village clerk in 2011. He was Cook County Green Party chairman in 2012.