I can’t believe it took me so long to hear about this. Thanks, Shane, for bringing it to my attention.

One of this country’s bedrock principles states that nobody should ever be persecuted on account of their religious beliefs. Religious persecution was the reason most of the original European settlers came here. The First Amendment to the Constitution lays out, in no uncertain terms, that the government may not act on behalf of any religion. And President Thomas Jefferson wrote of “building a wall of separation between church and state”. So why, then, are the citizens of this state not up in arms over what happened on April 2nd, when an elected member of the State Legislature attacked a citizen on the floor of the General Assembly over that citizen’s religious convictions.

Illinois social activist Rob Sherman testified before the House State Government Administration Committee in Springfield. The subject of his testimony was the $1 million grant Governor Rod Blagojevich gave to the Pilgrim Baptist Church — or tried to, anyway; that’s a whole different bag of crazy you can read about right here. Mr. Sherman was there argue that the proposed grant was unconstitutional.

Mr. Sherman is, among other things, an atheist. No doubt his atheism informed his decision to testify on the subject of the state handing out million-dollar grants to churches. But Mr. Sherman’s atheism was not the subject of the hearing until Representative Monique D. Davis, a Democrat, decided to tear Mr. Sherman a new one.

“This is the Land of Lincoln, where people believe in God,” the State Representative said. “What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous.” What is dangerous? Mr. Sherman inquired. “It’s dangerous to the progression of this state,” Ms. Davis said, “and it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists!” She then informed Mr. Sherman that he had no right to testify before the committee, and that he should get out of his seat. To his credit, Mr. Sherman let her finish her tirade before resuming his testimony. He did not relinquish his seat before he was finished with it.

I’ve heard of Rob Sherman before; he and his daughter were instrumental in stopping the bill that would have created a mandatory Moment of Silence in Illinois schools. I’ve poked around his website; he comes across as kind of a douche. That said, I agree with most of his positions and I admire the tenacity with which he pursues his goals. Imagine a Christian minister in his position, on the receiving end of such vitriol. I know it wouldn’t have taken nearly a week before I got word of it.

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune posted a more thorough transcription of the exchange, as well as a link to an audio recording of it, right here.