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updated: 9/18/2013 8:31 AM

Arlington Hts. parks to allow Nativity, other private displays

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  • Father Bill Zavaski, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, blesses the Nativity scene that was added to the North School Park holiday display in 2012.

      Father Bill Zavaski, pastor of St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, blesses the Nativity scene that was added to the North School Park holiday display in 2012.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer


The Arlington Heights Park District board will allow private groups to put its own displays in North School Park between Thanksgiving and the new year and in Memorial Park around the Memorial Day holiday.

Less than a year after a controversy erupted when a local man wanted to add his own Nativity scene to the annual holiday display in North School Park, the park board is now spelling out how private groups can put up their own displays on park property.

"When the request came in last year we did not have a specific policy related to unattended displays, and we felt it was important to have a process and a procedure so applicants know what to expect and the staff knows what to expect," said park district Executive Director Steve Scholten.

Displays will be allowed in North School Park at Arlington Heights Road and Eastman between the Friday after Thanksgiving and the Saturday after Dec. 31.

Displays will also be permitted in Memorial Park, at Fremont and Chestnut, for seven days before Memorial Day and seven days after it.

People or groups will have to submit an application and a $200 deposit to put up a private, unattended display, according to the new policy. The application clarifies that the park district is not a sponsor of any display that is approved and has no responsibility for it.

All displays must have a sign that clearly states who the display is sponsored by and that it does not represent the Arlington Heights Park District.

An unattended display "refers to a display, symbol, structure, exhibit or sign which the owner or sponsor seeks to leave overnight or unattended," the policy states.

Displays may not be taller than 6 feet and must fit inside an 8-by-12-foot space. Scholten said the park district attorney's modeled the policy off a similar one in Glenview.

North School Park will likely have room for four displays, while Memorial will have room for two, Scholten said. Lighting for displays will be allowed at North School Park but not Memorial Park.

Applications for North School Park displays will be accepted between Oct. 15 and Dec. 15, according to the policy.

Jim Finnegan, chairman of the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee and former Arlington Heights resident, approached the park board last fall asking for permission to display a Nativity scene in North School Park at the same time the park district's annual holiday display was going on there.

The park board initially refused, saying it was inconsistent with their practice of using only their own decorations -- a toy-themed display.

The Thomas More Society submitted a formal complaint, saying their right to display the Nativity is protected under the First Amendment, and Finnegan was eventually granted a special use to display his, as was a group that put up a sign supporting freedom from religion.

Scholten said Finnegan has already requested an application for this year.

Displays: Application process starts Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 15

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