The Bald Knob Cross of Peace was finished in 1963 on the 1,025-foot-high Bald Knob Mountain about 130 miles southeast of St. Louis.
Its concrete and steel frame was covered by about 650 white porcelain panels, but many have rusted or fallen off and some remain attached only with coat hangers and bailing wire.
A group called Friends of Bald Knob Cross has collected $360,000 of the $550,000 needed to restore the cross, including a $20,000 grant from the state of Illinois.
Chicago-area atheist Rob Sherman has challenged the grant, promising “a long and expensive” lawsuit if the money isn’t returned, according to the Associated Press.
Sherman, a retired Chicago-area radio talk show host, successfully fought the state’s moment of silence in public schools.
Bill Vandergraph, a minister and member of the board of Friends of Bald Knob Cross, said that the money was used long ago as a down payment on the renovation.
About the lawsuit, he said, “We’re not shaken in any way.”
"We're trying to stay low-profile, and that's not out of fear. We're absolutely not intimidated," he commented, the AP reports.
According to Vandergraph, his group applied for the money only after a state senator said they’d be eligible for it. The cross has also housed federal government transmission equipment and has been used by Union County’s conservation department.
The mountain has been the site of Easter services since 1937. Rural mail carrier Wayman Presley and pastor William Lirely envisioned a giant cross for the site to be visible for miles to serve as a continued witness.
Presley’s effort was featured on the television show “This is Your Life” in 1955, generating donations from across the country.
A widow named Myrta Clutts pledged $100 to the project despite her poverty. When her pig Betsy gave birth to 21 piglets, three times the normal litter size, she gave some to her dog to raise. She sold 14 of the piglets and had $400 remaining to pay the bills.
Presley set up a barn on Clutts’ farm where more than 1,700 piglets were produced from Betsy’s original litter to be sold to support the Bald Knob Cross fund, the AP says.
What troubles the atheists about a cross? Fear alone.