Rob Sherman Advocacy         

October 20, 2006

Rob Sherman Advocacy Files Suit Against Burbank, Illinois, for Christian Vehicle Sticker
 

      Rob Sherman Advocacy filed a lawsuit this week against the southwest Chicago suburb of Burbank, Illinois, for putting a Christian cross, amongst other imagery, on its municipal vehicle tax sticker ("vehicle sticker") and then forcing unwilling residents to display the central symbol of Christianity from the windshields of their cars.  The lawsuit was filed in behalf of the Plaintiff in the lawsuit, college student Nichole Schultz, who is a resident of Burbank.

     The City of Burbank, IL, is located two miles south of Midway Airport, between Cicero Avenue (4800 West) and Harlem Avenue (7200 West) and between 75th Street and 87th Street.  (The northern border varies from 71st Street to 77th Street.)

     Rob Sherman Advocacy made numerous attempts over the past six months to persuade the City to allow residents to demonstrate in some other way that they have paid their municipal vehicle tax.  Rob Sherman appeared at a City Council meeting in May, where he made a presentation on the issue.  Sherman exchanged several telephone calls with the Mayor and the City Clerk.  On July 10th, Sherman sent a Letter to the City of Burbank asking that this matter be resolved without litigation.  The City declined to budge on the issue, although City officials were always polite, courtesy and respectful in responding to Sherman.  They just didn't agree with Sherman, contending that a Christian cross, when used to mark a cemetery grave as in the vehicle sticker depiction, is merely a generic marker that is devoid of religious significance and therefore may legally be used on a vehicle sticker.  Now, it will be up to the a federal court to decide who's right.

     Twenty years ago, Sherman helped Clint Harris of Zion, IL, and Ted Kuhn of Rolling Meadows, IL, resolve similar cases, in which there was a Christian cross on the vehicle stickers in those municipalities.  There, as in Burbank, today, the cities claimed a secular purpose for Christian government officials to put a Christian cross on the vehicle stickers.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (federal appeals court) ruled that a cross is the central symbol of the Christian religion, so regardless of any claimed secular purpose, the inclusion of a Christian cross on a vehicle sticker has a sectarian religious effect on the "ordinary observer" and is therefore unconstitutional.

     The Chicago Tribune published a story about all this on October 20, 2006.  Read the story on the Chicago Tribune web site or, for your convenience, below is an unedited, library/archive copy of the Tribune's story:

 

Woman sues over 'forced Christianization' of car


By Jo Napolitano
Tribune staff reporter
Published October 19, 2006, 8:14 PM CDT

 
A Burbank woman is suing her hometown in federal court for requiring her to display what she believes is a Christian-themed vehicle sticker on her windshield.

Nichole Schultz tried to get an exemption from displaying the sticker because of religious concerns, but the city denied her request, her attorney said, so now the matter is headed to court.

The sticker depicts a soldier with a rifle, kneeling before a gravesite emblazoned with a cross. City officials contend the cross is a generic symbol and was not selected for any religious meaning.

Schultz said the city is violating the Illinois Constitution along with her 1st Amendment rights by making her endorse a particular faith.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Chicago, said that as a result of the "forced Christianization" of her car, she avoids driving it whenever possible. She's not asking for the city to rescind its sticker for everyone, but to make an exception for her.

Schultz is suing Burbank, the City Council, Mayor Harry Klein and City Clerk Pat Roach.

Roach said Thursday that the cross is a grave marker, not a crucifix. She said the city often tries to incorporate a patriotic theme in its stickers and that they usually include an American flag.

Last year, the sticker showed an excavator and said something about "a community at work." No one liked it, Roach said. This year's sticker received a warmer welcome with only two complaints.

Schultz claims Roach told her to "deal with it" when she called to complain about the sticker. The clerk denies ever using those words.

"I probably said something like, 'I'm surprised that you don't like it because everybody else does,'" Roach said. "It's been very popular."

Roach said Schultz has the option to cover up a portion of the sticker or to cut out the cross, but Schultz's advocates said they were never offered such a compromise.

Rob Sherman, an atheist activist, wrote the city a letter in July on Schultz's behalf, asking officials to come up with a discreet solution that would keep the matter out of court.

"Let's resolve this matter together and get it over with without litigation and without the negative effects that a battle over a religious issue would cause," he said.

The city never answered, Sherman said.

The law is on Schultz's side, he said, pointing to two cases involving religious-themed vehicle stickers—one in Zion and the other in Rolling Meadows—that were decided in 1991.

Sherman said, too, that there is no way to divorce the cross symbol from its religious roots, saying government officials often try to "accidentally" force people to advertise their religion.

Schultz could not be reached for comment. Her lawyer, Dmitry Feofanov, said he didn't know her religious affiliation and that it doesn't matter. Feofanov has a one-man firm called Chicago Lemon Law, and most of his cases involve car fraud.

"The law is the law," he said. "This country was founded in part because of the idea of religious liberty. This issue was on the table in American public life from the founding of the Republic."

Feofanov said that because the city ignored legal precedent, the only option was to go to court.

Vincent Cainkar, an attorney representing the city, said he would not comment on the case.

jnapolitano@tribune.com