A Nativity scene could join Arlington Heights' holiday display as early as this weekend, according to the leader of a group that's complained about the religious tradition's absence from the showcase.
Jim Finnegan of the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee submitted a formal park use permit application Monday for a Nativity scene he is trying to donate to the annual holiday display at North School Park.
While Arlington Heights Park District Executive Director Steve Scholten said no decision on the permit has been made, Finnegan is confident signs are pointing toward an approval, possibly in the next few days.
"I'd be shocked if it went the other way," he said. "It's clear to me we have this worked out, it's not about going to court or not anymore."
Last month the Thomas More Society filed a complaint with the park district because it rejected Finnegan's offer of a Nativity. The park district said it turned down the offer in part because the theme of the display is children's toys and because there are no other donated items.
Scholten said park district attorneys still are reviewing the application, but there is a plan to meet with Finnegan later in the week to discuss how much space and electricity the Nativity scene would need if approved.
"We're bound by the laws and we'll follow the laws," Scholten said.
Finnegan said there are a few possible locations for the Nativity scene in the park, and that once it is installed he hopes to have a ceremony at the park with local residents and church members.
The scene will have a sign, which Finnegan already has ordered, stating that the display is privately funded and donated.
The display, which costs more than $1,000 and has figures about 3 feet tall, will come from Finnegan's front yard at his home in Barrington. Finnegan said he previously lived in Arlington Heights for 38 years.
The issue has been controversial for residents, who Scholten said have been emailing the park district with about half in favor of the display and half against.
Buffalo Grove resident and longtime atheist activist Rob Sherman attended the last park district board meeting urging members not to approve the request, calling the actions by the Thomas More Society a "scam" and a "bluff"
"If they had a case they would have been in court already," Sherman said. "This is all about trying to advertise his religion and suggest that the government either endorse his opinion or at least approve of it. Don't be faked out."
In the 20 years of the holiday decorations at North School Park, this is the first time anyone has requested to add something to the park district display, Scholten said.
Finnegan said he hopes this will be an annual addition to the decorations, though he will have to reapply for a permit each year. He said he may consider approaching other suburbs about adding Nativity scenes in coming years.
"We have a right to this so we need to stand up for our rights," he said.