For eight years Buffalo Grove mayor Sidney Mathias sat through the orations of Rob Sherman, his town’s outspoken atheist. Week after week Sherman showed up at village board meetings to complain, among other things, that allowing the Jewish Community Center to use a public park violated the separation of church and state. Mathias always listened patiently. On April 19 the genial mayor presided over his last meeting. He was stepping down after being elected to the state legislature.

“Is there anyone in the audience who’d like to be heard?” he asked, when he reached the “public comment” section of the agenda.

Sherman’s hand shot up. Mathias scanned the crowd.

“Seeing nobody, we’ll move on to the next part of the meeting–”

Sherman bolted from his seat and stormed out of the council chambers, slamming the door behind him.

“He saw me,” Sherman said later. “I’m not going to be insulted and ridiculed. It was a snub.”

Sherman is easily the best-known atheist in the Chicago area, and he may be the most famous American atheist since Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who sued to end school prayer in 1963. Sherman started his career in 1986 by suing the city of Zion to remove a cross from its municipal seal. Since then, he’s stopped the Hickory Hills park district from asking day-care students to pray before meals by threatening a lawsuit, and he was arrested two years ago for demonstrating when the Calumet Expressway was rechristened the Bishop Ford Freeway. Sherman preaches separation of church and state as ardently as Billy Graham pounds the pulpit for Jesus. As a spokesman for American Atheists, Inc., he has testified to his lack of faith on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1997 the Chicago Tribune named Sherman to its “A-list” of “movers and shakers” in the northwest suburbs, along with Rosemont mayor Donald Stephens and Arlington International Racecourse owner Dick Duchossois.

Sherman has never been beloved in his hometown–he’s the kind of guy who’d rather be right than popular–and in the last year and a half he’s gotten plenty of snubs there, from the mayor on down. In July 1998 Sherman was convicted of domestic battery for striking his then 16-year-old son. The same reporters he’d once urged to cover his civil rights battles showed up at his trial, and the resulting pile of press clippings reduced his public image from gadfly to criminal. He had to give up his Monday-evening radio show on WKTA AM because all his advertisers pulled out. His business, the Rob Sherman Travel Agency, lost customers.

“This is exactly what the government wanted,” says Sherman, who insists his conviction was payback for his activism. “This is the government engaging in economic warfare against political dissidents.”

Now, after two stints in jail for refusing to complete his court-ordered domestic violence counseling, he’s trying to get his conviction overturned and to revive his career as the self-described “Jesse Jackson of atheists.”

“They know they will not be able to intimidate me, but they want to make sure everyone else is intimidated,” Sherman says. On speaking tours, “one of the key things that I stress is that you have to have individuals who are willing to be the public spokesman for atheist civil rights. Because if it’s only one person, the government gets the impression that if they take out that one person they have stopped the movement. That’s why they shoot people. That’s why they shot Martin Luther King. That’s why they shot John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.”

And that, he’s convinced, is why the cops and courts are laying this bullshit rap on him.

“That’s just patently silly,” says Buffalo Grove police chief Leo McCann. “Our position is, he’s a convicted individual. He was convicted of abusing his son….I think he’s trying to put the pieces back together, and he’s blaming everyone but himself.”

As a stringer for the Chicago Tribune, I was often part of Sherman’s audience at the Buffalo Grove village board. After he got out of jail the second time, I decided to write a story about what happens when someone as headstrong as Sherman fights a one-man war against the criminal justice system. Judges believe that fear of the law is the beginning of wisdom, and they get awfully uptight when a defendant won’t grovel for forgiveness. Rob Sherman–a smart, willful man who sticks to his opinions even when the whole world disagrees–has never groveled before anyone, man or God.

Family violence is always a touchy subject, so I approached Sherman by E-mail. Ten minutes after I logged off the telephone rang. It was Sherman.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” he said. “It’ll be good publicity for my Web site.”

Sherman lives on a winding lane in a Buffalo Grove subdivision. His house can be spotted among the repetitive rows of white split-levels by the Pontiac Bonneville with “LIBERL” license plates parked in the driveway. They used to say “ATHEIST,” but Sherman says a benefactor offered him $10,000 to change the message on his car. “He was concerned about the safety of my family if they were riding in it.”

A tattered couch, a jumble of appliance-size boxes, and neatly stacked columns of newspapers clutter the living room. This is not the most important room in Rob Sherman’s castle. That would be the office, which is fully loaded with electronica: modems, monitor, scanner, printer. A corner bookshelf holds a Bible, for refuting believers. Another shelf is covered with pictures of his wife and children. The huge television set is tuned to Sherman’s favorite program, The Rob Sherman Show, which airs every Saturday night on the local public access channel. Sherman has scheduled our interview to make sure I catch it. This week it’s a solid hour of Rob Sherman blustering at the camera in a tone of playful outrage about the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, the relative merits of DirecTV and cable, and Jesse Ventura’s Playboy interview, in which he warmed the hearts of atheists by calling religion “a crutch for weak minds.”

“It’s just a fun little show where I have an opportunity to express my thoughts,” Sherman explains.

Out in the kitchen, Celeste Sherman is frying up hamburgers. A little flustered by the presence of a guest, she asks Rob how many patties she should fix.

“Bring in what you have and ask around,” Sherman booms, in a broadcaster’s voice deepened by hundreds of hours at microphones. Celeste places two hamburgers in front of him. “See how simple that is,” he says soothingly. “I love you, Celeste. You’re the best wife a guy has ever had.”

Now that Sherman’s radio show is off the air, he has a new scheme to cash in on the demand for his opinions: a Web page, “Liberal News and Commentary.” It will, he insists, bring him far more fame and riches than he ever reaped from local radio. So far his site––has four sponsors, two of them fellow atheists. Up since mid-November, it’s averaging 125 hits a day.

“Short term, [the conviction] stopped my income, but long term it has helped, because people are going to recognize I’m not only an activist for good government and good parenting, I am now a martyr for good parenting and a martyr for good government, and people will respond and that’s exactly what happened. I will make more money off than I have ever made before. So the government’s scam has backfired.”

Is Sherman a martyr, in the religious terminology to which he’s addicted, or is he a domestic badass who beat up his son? According to Sherman, on the evening of June 2, 1998, he was getting ready to drive to the WKTA studios to broadcast his radio show. It was a big night: because of the time of year, the transmitter would be broadcasting at daytime power for the first part of the 8 PM to 10 PM show. He’d done a lot of publicity, promising listeners “Rob Sherman at his finest. Best guests, best production, everything.” Around 7:30 Sherman told his son, Rick, he’d have to baby-sit his four-year-old sister while dad was off doing the show. Rick refused, telling Sherman, “You can’t make me do it and there’s nothing you can do about it.” By the time he’d persuaded Rick to baby-sit it was air time.

“Eight o’clock comes along, previous show is over,” Sherman says. “People are tuning in and they’re hearing dead air. Great. This is how I’m trying to earn the money to pay for his college tuition? So it was a major embarrassment.”

When Sherman returned home around 10:15, he turned on the kitchen radio so his wife wouldn’t hear what was about to happen and marched up to Rick’s bedroom. After locking the door behind him, Sherman says, he woke the sleeping boy and smacked him across the face, shouting, “You can’t do this!” It was legitimate corporal punishment, Sherman contends, the only way to let the kid know that dad could do something about it when his orders were defied.

“He indicated that he would not respond to verbal persuasion, and I felt it was so important to provide an income to support the family that it was necessary if he wasn’t going to respond to verbal persuasion,” Sherman says.

While Sherman is telling this tale, Rick is rattling around the kitchen, listening in on the conversation.

“Do we have an audience here? We don’t need an audience here,” Sherman shouts.

“I’m just getting cake,” the boy replies.

“OK. Enjoy your cake.”

“Thank you!”

According to the police report, Rick showed up at school the next day with a fat lip and a swollen cheek. Rick reported the beating to a counselor, who called the cops.

Years before, Sherman had trained his young son to pipe “God is make-believe!” at the end of his old “Dial-an-Atheist” telephone messages. Now, when the cops came to question him about the attack on Rick, he explained, “I wanted to put the fear of God in him.”

Sherman was arrested and slapped with an order of protection forbidding him to harass Rick, who was now staying temporarily at his girlfriend’s house. Police confiscated a rifle and a semiautomatic handgun from his house. Sherman begged for their return, claiming he needed to protect his family from “assassins” who’d threatened to kill him because of his activism. But the law requires domestic battery suspects to surrender all weapons.

The police have photographs of Rick’s swollen face, but Sherman insists the injuries weren’t caused by his fists. During the altercation, he says, Rick “had his eyeglasses on his bed. He rolled over on his eyeglasses. He had slight discoloration of his cheeks, slight swelling of his lip….After the trial I went to the eyeglass place. I said, ‘Is it possible?’ He said, ‘I see this all the time. If you had caused the bruises, there would be bruises there for a long time.’ What they talked about in court–slight discoloration of the cheeks, slight swelling of the lip that went away almost immediately–obviously that was from the glasses.” (During Sherman’s trial, prosecutors declined to use the photos as evidence because, as one said, “You can’t really see anything in the picture.”)

As Sherman and I talk, I’m sitting on the far side of his desk, facing the office doorway, which opens into the kitchen. At about this point in Sherman’s apologia, Rick’s arm appears around the corner, holding a hand-printed sheet of paper that reads “I HOPE YOU DON’T BELIEVE ALL THAT.” Sherman can’t see it, and he plunges on with his story.

“If it hadn’t been for my activism, this would have been a station adjustment [a lecture from the cops],” he says. The arresting officer was the former head of the Buffalo Grove Police Explorers post. The Explorers are a branch of the Boy Scouts, who require all members to profess a belief in God. In 1997 Sherman asked Rick to sign up for the Explorers as a way of ridding his village of this link to a “God-believing” institution. The Boy Scouts office responded that a boy from an atheist family couldn’t be an Explorer, so the department decided to drop the program and replace it with the Police Cadets.

“That means that this guy is no longer a member of the Boy Scouts,” Sherman says. “Well, this is payback. He says, ‘Hey, this is a way to get even with Rob Sherman for screwing me out of my Boy Scout association.’ That’s what this is all about.”

(“We don’t station-adjust adults who beat their children,” says Chief Leo McCann, who claims that the arresting officer was never involved with the Explorers.)

During his two-day trial Sherman served as his own attorney, because he was sure the government was trying to drive him to bankruptcy with legal fees. His amateur lawyering got him nowhere. Circuit judge John Scotillo denied Sherman’s motion to dismiss the complaint, which Sherman made on the grounds that he had been accused of striking his son, which could be justified as mere corporal punishment, but not of causing a specific injury, such as a bruised face, that would support a domestic battery charge. That’s the “scam,” Sherman says: he was accused of one act, convicted of another.

“The allegations were switched in midtrial, when I began being accused of causing bodily harm,” Sherman charges. “There’s no way that I could have witnesses to refute it. That’s why they bring it up in the middle of the trial.”

(The state’s attorney’s office did not return calls for comment on Sherman’s allegations.)

Sherman then refused to testify in his own defense, insisting he hadn’t committed a crime or even been accused of one. Scotillo forced Sherman to consult with a public defender, who recommended that the atheist take the stand. Sherman did, but he was found guilty nonetheless and sentenced to two years conditional discharge. Scotillo also ordered him to attend domestic violence counseling, donate $500 to a domestic violence shelter in Elgin, and post a newspaper clipping in his home office about a woman’s love for her father.

“You exhibit all of the signs of a classic abuser except for one,” Scotillo scolded. “The classic abuser feels remorse afterward.”

Then, using a phrase that still rankles over a year later, Scotillo told the five-foot-six-inch Sherman, “You feel the need for power and control. It’s like a Napoleonic complex. You are unrepentant and you are righteous. It’s a dangerous combination because you really believe what you did is right, and you stand alone in the belief….Inside your house you demand to be the king, the king of the castle. And that’s another sign of a classic domestic abuser. You demand power and control.”

Defying the robe with the same hubris he’d shown defying Allah, Zeus, Krishna, and Jesus Christ, Sherman refused to post the newspaper clipping because it mentioned God. “The king” also decided he didn’t need counseling–“I have never committed an act of domestic violence,” Sherman scoffs–and didn’t sign up for a class until last December. Once enrolled, he skipped two of the four scheduled sessions, once to buy art supplies for his son and the other time to rescue his wife and children, whose car had stalled on I-55 near Springfield. On January 8, Scotillo sent Sherman to jail for violating the terms of his conditional discharge. He spent six days in the clink.

“For rescuing my family from imminent death instead of going to a meeting to talk about what a father should do when your family’s facing danger, I was sent to jail for a week,” he fumes. “I didn’t miss a meeting because of any discretionary decision on my part. It was because of the misconduct of the other party to the litigation. Rick ran the car out of gas, then he ran the battery down. I went down there, I found the problems, I fixed the car, got them back on the road, saved their lives. For that I was sent to jail.”

After his first stint at 26th and California, Sherman started showing up regularly for counseling sessions, but he refused to admit he needed help and he used the class time to hammer away at the courts. Finally, Sherman and his counselor, Dr. James Dugo of Des Plaines, agreed he should stop attending the classes.

“Robert will not move from his position that he is a victim of judicial fraud nor stop presenting this point of view in the classes,” Dugo wrote to the court on January 28. “Robert’s influence on the group sends a wrong message to other members and since he is not open to another point of view [counseling] is not helpful to him….A recommendation, considering Robert’s resistance and angry stance, is to have him undergo a psychological assessment. This may serve to clarify if there are any underlying psychological issues contributing to the problem.”

In April the state’s attorney filed a motion to send Sherman back to jail for refusing to attend counseling. Again he returned to class, but Dugo had had enough of his defiant attitude. Dugo asked Sherman if he had anything to learn from counseling. Sherman again said no, so Dugo asked Sherman to leave. Sherman refused, arguing that the court had ordered him to be there. Dugo’s associate called the police, and Sherman was led away by three officers and a sergeant.

Dugo was glad to be rid of his disruptive client. “He would frequently tell other clients, when they would say their situation, that it was obvious to him that they were not guilty and they were also, potentially, victims of judicial fraud,” the counselor testified at a May 14 hearing on revoking Sherman’s conditional discharge.

“You would not allow him back into your class at that point at all?” assistant state’s attorney John Guinn asked him.

“Under no circumstances,” Dugo said.

This time Scotillo hit Sherman with 120 days, despite the atheist’s plea that he was being sent to jail for a “thought crime.”

“You’ve always found that the problem is someone else’s fault,” Scotillo lectured Sherman. “It’s my fault. It’s the appellate court’s fault. It’s Dr. Dugo’s fault.”

Sherman passed the time studying computer manuals and reading news stories his wife clipped for him. His fellow inmates, he says, treated him as “a hero, because they’d seen me on TV, they knew of my record for standing up for the little guy. I had the biggest, toughest gangbangers there saying ‘Anybody wants to mess with Mr. Sherman, they have to go through me.'”

Celeste visited every Sunday, and even Rick came two or three times. Sherman assured the boy it wasn’t his fault that dad was in jail. It was the fault of a vengeful judge.

“It was very hard,” Celeste says, “although he had assured me that he was being treated very well. And actually when I did come to see him, the guards that were there were always very nice to me.”

Celeste had co-signed the complaint against Sherman because she wanted her son and her husband to work out their differences in court. Asked if she would have done the same thing if she’d known Sherman would end up in jail, she answers, “Probably not.”

While in jail, Sherman filed a brief asking the First District Court of Appeals to restore his conditional discharge. He was released on appeal bond after 65 days, but if the appeal is turned down, he may have to go back and do the rest of his time. (The appellate court refused to overturn Sherman’s conviction; he intends to take that case to the Illinois Supreme Court.)

A few hours into the interview, Rick raps tentatively on the door frame and announces he’s going over to his girlfriend’s house. By now he’s flashed the “I HOPE YOU DON’T BELIEVE ALL THAT” sign several times while “getting a piece of cake.” It seems he wants to say something, so I ask what happened the night his father struck him.

“He came into my room after I had gone to sleep, and he climbed on top of me and started hitting me in the face and chest with his fist,” the slender, blond teenager says in a flat voice. “I tried to stop him and finally rolled on the ground and that was it. He walked away.”

The attack “lasted about a minute” and left marks “on my lip and on my cheek,” Rick said. It “wasn’t the first time” his father beat him, but it was the worst.

(In court, Rick testified that his father hit him “every two to three months” and sometimes used menacing psychological stunts to punish him for not doing chores. Once, Rick said, Sherman cut up Rick’s favorite stuffed animal and placed the shreds in a popcorn bowl for the family to see. Another time Sherman ran over a mouse while he was mowing the lawn, which was supposed to be Rick’s job. To remind Rick of his duties, Sherman laid the dead rodent on the boy’s bicycle seat.

“Basically, whenever I am home I am 90 percent of the time in a depressed state,” Rick testified. “When I come home from school I automatically dread walking in the house because it’s just another day having to deal with him yelling at me or harassing me.”)

Sherman sits in his office chair, arms folded, looking grumpy. I ask Rick whether he thinks his father deserved to go to jail.

“I feel all of it was justified, even the time in jail,” the boy says. “It did happen, no matter what anyone else says, and he didn’t follow sentencing and refused to cooperate at all….When you don’t follow through with your sentencing, you get sent to jail.”

Although Sherman likes to proclaim that jail has not changed him “one iota,” Rick says he and his father get along much better now. They’re trying to coexist until next September, when Rick plans to go downstate to the University of Illinois.

“There’s a lot fewer arguments,” he says. “I don’t spend as much time here as I used to, because I try to avoid confrontations as much as possible. We cooperate more with each other. I don’t feel threatened anymore either. I also have the order of protection if he were to hit me again. I don’t feel that he’ll hit me again, though.”

“Thanks, Rick,” Sherman says curtly when his son is finished talking. “Where are you going? To your friend’s house?”


Rick slides out of the room. It’s true, Sherman agrees, that there’s less conflict in the house these days. But that’s because the order of protection prevents him from exerting fatherly discipline. The boy has no chores because now there’s no way to make sure he does them. In the waning days of his radio show, Sherman howled endlessly that the court had usurped “my rights as a parent.” Now he picks up the theme again.

“I know I can’t discipline him,” he says. “If I do any discipline, he’s a stool pigeon. He’ll go to the state’s attorney. ‘Daddy criticized me.’ ‘OK, that’s harassment, off to jail.'”

Sherman insists that the only reason Rick is sticking to the “daddy beat me” story is that he’ll be liable for perjury if he comes clean.

“Rick claims that he got hit 10 to 20 times with a closed fist,” he scoffs. “Didn’t leave a scratch. If I had hit him 10 to 20 times with a closed fist they would have carried him out on a stretcher and he might not have survived, because I’m 200 pounds. I’m kind of strong.”

Then he points at a folding door leaning against a wall of his office.

“If you need a real example of who’s telling the truth here, who’s credible, take a look at that door. How did it get that way? “My darling son kicked the door in, ripped it right off the wall. For the smart-aleck judge, the smart-ass judge, to say I have Napoleonic control–if the boy would follow simple basic rules I wouldn’t need Napoleonic control. It’s only because he breaks the rules all the time, refuses to help out around here.”

The people of Buffalo Grove, Sherman claims, are outraged over his conviction. That’s nonsense, says trustee William Reid, who has listened to dozens of Sherman tirades in his years on the village board. “I have not heard anybody speak out in opposition to the court events,” Reid says.

Asked if Sherman’s conviction has ruined his career as an activist, Reid ponders a moment, then gives a diplomatic answer. “I think what happened was a very unfortunate incident for Rob and his family,” Reid says. “I think it may have reduced his credibility.”

But Sherman is not a total pariah in his community. This fall the principal of his daughter’s elementary school appeared on his TV show to discuss safety. One of his Web site sponsors is a Buffalo Grove restaurant. Chris Allen, a friend and fellow atheist who lives in Utah, says the Sherman he knows would never beat his son.

“Rob’s family clearly means the world to him,” Allen says. “He often talks proudly about his wife and kids, and that just doesn’t fit with the abuser image.”

Perhaps Sherman has lost some face among his neighbors. That hasn’t ended his career as an agitator. He’s now making headlines outside the Chicago area. At the moment, Sherman is leading a “crusade” to remove a 60-foot cross from Table Rock, a bluff overlooking Boise, Idaho.

In early November, Sherman went out west on a speaking tour, his first set of appearances since getting out of jail. The 30 members of Idaho Atheists, who knew of his success at tearing down crosses, invited him to give a talk on “How to Win Church/State Issues.” The atheists had long been annoyed by the Table Rock cross, which dominates the Boise skyline as prominently as the “Hollywood” sign looms over the movie capital. The state owns the bluff, but in 1971 the Idaho Land Board sold the piece of land surrounding the cross to the Jaycees for $100, technically placing the monument on private land. Five years ago the American Civil Liberties Union complained to the land board, charging the sale had been rigged so that only a bid by the Jaycees would be accepted. The land board investigated itself, decided it had done nothing wrong, and the issue went away.

Then Sherman came to town. The atheists sent out a press release announcing he’d be discussing the cross. A reporter from a local TV station showed up. Sherman’s vow that “the days of this cross are limited” became the top story on that night’s news. After that, all heaven broke loose for Rob Sherman. The Jaycees vowed to fight him “all the way to the Supreme Court.” The governor sent out a press release condemning the “out-of-state interests…attempting to define Idaho and the great people who live here.” Sherman was vilified on talk radio, and he started getting E-mail like this: “Don’t you have better things to do than torment small towns. Now that is Pathetic. Stay in Chicago and keep your business there. Remember this is Idaho and we all are NRA members and not afraid to shoot lame Jack Asses like you. Take your infringing communist ways and stuff it up your ass and leave us ALONE!!!!!”

“I spent 21 hours in Idaho, and already I’m the most hated man in the history of the state!” Sherman cackles.

Three weeks after Sherman’s speech, ten thousand Idahoans marched to the state capitol to rally around their landmark. Even the New York Times covered the “Cross Walk.”

“In Rocky Mountain political terms, Sherman has hit two hot buttons,” the paper reported. “Westerners do not take kindly to outsiders telling them what to do, and property rights are considered sacrosanct here.”

All this because of one Rob Sherman sound bite. Carol Bachelder, a member of Idaho Atheists, is awed by his genius for pissing off Christians. She placed a concerned call to the land board herself, but got no results.

“I tried with my little phone call, the ACLU tried with an actual lawsuit, and they didn’t get very far,” Bachelder said. “He really does stir up the dust. He knows how to do these things. He wins.”

Although he hasn’t gone back to Boise since his speech, Sherman has become the spokesman for the anticross campaign, making TV appearances by satellite and talking to newspaper reporters from his office. Susan Harrington, president of Idaho Atheists, is grateful an outsider has become the voice of this issue.

“He has many supporters who’ve been waiting for a crusader,” Harrington said. Idaho is a conservative state, so many local atheists “are afraid for their families, afraid for their jobs” if they publicly condemn the cross. Sherman “has spent hours giving radio and television interviews, and we all have full-time jobs, so we’re glad he did that.”

A Boise TV station reported Sherman’s domestic battery conviction, but that hasn’t cost him fans out west.

“When I talked to Rob about that, he had voiced his opinion that he gets arrested all the time,” Harrington said. “He said, ‘There was an attempt to discredit me, but if you look at the documents, the issue is so clear.'”

Sherman’s “Liberal News and Commentary” Web site originally featured his opinions on the Republican presidential candidates and other national issues. But since he came back from Idaho he’s written almost exclusively about the controversy he engineered there. Log on now and you won’t find anything but the latest updates on Rob Sherman and Idaho.

“The story has been on the front page of the local newspapers, the lead story on the television newscasts, and the subject of many radio talk shows,” the site crowed on November 26. “The New York Times is doing a story for publication as soon as Sunday. Can Larry King or Crossfire be far behind?”

It was Sherman’s way of telling the mayor, the police chief, the state’s attorney, and the judge that jail won’t shut him up. He’s going to be louder–and more famous–than he ever was before.

Larry King didn’t call. Crossfire didn’t call. But Court TV did. On December 6, Sherman appeared on the cable network’s Pros & Cons opposite the Reverend Jerry Falwell, a media hound from the opposite end of the religious spectrum. After a few words in praise of the cross, Falwell went straight for his opponent’s soft white underbelly.

“Aren’t you the same guy I read about in the newspapers who was convicted of beating your son?” Falwell asked, in a tone that sounded soothing and sneering at the same time. “Aren’t you on probation? Why’d you beat your son, Rob?”

“This is a personal attack,” Sherman retorted. “You’re muddying the issue….The [land] sale was a blatant fraud. Just like the conviction. It was fraudulent.”

Then Sherman went on the attack, scolding Falwell for an article in his newsletter that suggested Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby, is gay.

“I think you’ve been convicted as a homophobic bigot, but my case is still on appeal,” Sherman said.

As the show’s host, Nancy Grace, signaled time was up, Falwell got in one last dig. “Rob, be nice to your son now and stop beating him.”

Now the story of Rob and Rick Sherman was known far beyond Buffalo Grove and Boise. Jerry Falwell had spilled the news across the nation. After the taping, I asked Sherman how he could still be an effective advocate for church and state separation if his adversaries bring up the conviction every time he shows his face on TV.

“The reason I can be effective is that when they do that–the reason they are resorting to the rumors about my private life is that they have no case,” he says. “It demonstrates in Idaho that they have no case. It demonstrates that this is a pattern that my political enemies use. When they have no case, they go after me with rumors. It proves that the fake conviction will not stop me, and it will not harm my reputation.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Nathan Mandell.