An atheist blogger who supports Park Commissioner Dan Ashta’s Pledge of Allegiance boycott is making a third attempt to donate $3,000 Morton Grove-area residents, this time by sending a check to the Niles Township Food Pantry.
Hemant Mehta, of Naperville, fundraised the money with a call on his website friendlyatheist.com after American Legion Post 134 vowed to withhold its $2,600 in donations until all park commissioners stood for the pledge.
Mehta said he wanted to thank Ashta for protecting the First Amendment and the ability to advocate for a separation of church and state. However, the Morton Grove Park Board returned the check, saying it did not want to become embroiled in a political or religious dispute.
Mehta then sent a check to the Morton Grove Library, but its board of trustees also declined to take the money. Some trustees cited concerns over accepting money originally intended for the park district, while others said they didn’t want money from a “hate group.”
“I guess friendly atheists who want to give money to a library is a hate group,” Mehta said in a video on his website. “They offered their reasons for why we’re a hate group, which as you can imagine were completely off base.”
A reader comment on the blog’s website that reads “[expletive] God” was among the reasons why, but Mehta said earlier in the week that failed attempts to regulate a forum does not make anyone a hate group.
Despite being given the label, Mehta is now asking his readers to donate to the library individually.
“The Morton Grove Public Library does really have a wish list of things they need,” Mehta said in his video. “If you can find it in your heart and wallet to donate to library so they can get all the things they need, I think that would be a really nice gesture.”
But the original $3,000 fundraised in late October still looms large.
“I’m trying to figure out what to do with the money and I still want to give it to the people of Morton Grove, so I’ve decided to give it to the Niles Food Pantry,” Mehta said in his video. “I know I said this before, but I can’t imagine they would reject the money, especially at this time of year.”
Niles Township Supervisor Lee Tamraz sits on the food pantry’s board of trustees and said he will convene the seven-member board for a special meeting to address the donation, if a check arrives.
“As of today [Dec. 26], we have not received a check,” Tamraz said. “The first step is to see what accompanies the check. I don’t know what he wants in return, but if he were to just send a check with nothing else written on it, then I don’t see the harm in putting the money to good use.”
Mehta emphasizes in his video that a donation has no conditions or strings attached. Some library trustees confirmed there were no instructions given when they received his check.
Tamraz did admit to being familiar with the saga, and said he needs to do more research before deciding how he’d vote.
“There’s one thing I don’t want to do and that’s alienate the community,” Tamraz said. “We don’t want to lose any supporters of the food pantry because we help a lot of people who are between jobs.”
The food pantry reportedly helped more than 5,000 in November, which includes food packages and wrapped toys for children.
Another twist to the Niles Township perspective is that Tamraz is a veteran and member of American Legion Post 134.
“We fought for freedom,” Tamraz said. “From my perspective, any individual in this country has a right to do what they’re comfortable with. On the other hand, I don’t want to jeopardize the food pantry.”