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posted: 12/8/2012 8:00 AM

Nativity scene in Arlington Heights park just about a go

Arlington Hts. park district just needs final questions answered

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  • A Nativity scene could be approved for installation in North School Park in Arlington Heights as early as Monday, according to park district officials.

    A Nativity scene could be approved for installation in North School Park in Arlington Heights as early as Monday, according to park district officials.
    Daily Herald File Photo


A controversial Nativity scene is on the verge of approval in Arlington Heights, though park district officials say they still want some questions answered from the private group that is requesting the display be installed.

On Friday, officials from the Arlington Heights Park District met with Jim Finnegan of the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee to review his group's permit application for the Nativity display and to discuss its potential location in North School Park.

Park district officials gave Finnegan a list of questions to answer -- such as whether the group has insurance for the display -- before it is approved, according to park board President Maryfran Leno.

The park district also wants to know the size of the display, who will be installing it, and whether electricity will be needed.

"Assuming everything that Mr. Finnegan needs to provide is provided, I would assume it would be approved," Leno said. "We don't want to hold anything up, but regardless of what the permit is for, we would do the same for any group requesting something."

Finnegan said he was optimistic the Nativity scene would get final approval.

"We're a go on this," he said. "Anything in the world can happen, but it isn't gonna."

Last month, parks officials said they rejected Finnegan's initial request to put up the Nativity scene in part because the district uses only its own lights for its annual North School Park holiday display and because the theme of its display this year is children's toys.

In response, the Thomas More Society filed a complaint with the park district, arguing the Nativity scene is "a constitutionally protected private expression of religious belief, among the many other planned Christmas-themed displays in this public celebration of the holiday season."

On Monday, Finnegan submitted a formal park use permit application for the Nativity scene.

The park district staff has the authorization to approve the permit, just like it would approve permits for a picnic or 5K race, Leno said.

It would be the responsibility of the committee to install, maintain and take down the display, as well as cover any restoration costs if turf is damaged. The private group will also cover the costs of electricity to light the display if needed, Leno said.

"The park district will have nothing to do with the display," she said. "Park district staff will not be putting any funding toward it."

A final decision could come as early as Monday.

Finnegan said he and members of the 20-person Nativity scene committee intend to hold an opening ceremony Dec. 15.

Leno said park district officials asked Finnegan whether a ceremony would be held because they need to make sure another event isn't scheduled at the same time at North School Park.

"I don't think it will be a big issue," Leno said.

The Nativity scene, which has figures about 3 feet tall, is currently in the front yard of Finnegan's Barrington home. It costs more than $1,000 and is privately funded by a wealthy anonymous donor who is against attempts to "silence religious freedom," Finnegan said.

Next to the Nativity scene will be a sign saying it is "owned and maintained by the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee for the enjoyment of the people of Arlington Heights."

A potential location discussed by Finnegan and parks officials Friday would be near the park district's other holiday displays, but also have "some distinction of its own there," Finnegan said.

"This is in a location that will stand out," he said. "And people do seek out a Nativity scene with their kids. People wanna show what Christmas is all about."

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