Nativity scene, anti-religion sign coexist in Arlington Heights park
A year after controversy in Arlington Heights about whether to allow a Nativity scene on public property, both the Nativity and a sign with views against religion are coexisting -- mainly peacefully -- in North School Park this holiday season.
The Nativity scene, paid for by Jim Finnegan, chairman of the Illinois Nativity Scene Committee, sits next to a sign from the Freedom From Religion Foundation reading, in part, "Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."
The two displays were approved by the Arlington Heights Park District under its new policy for petitioners, including that they must clearly post that the displays are not paid for or supported by the park district.
Legally, if the park district allows one religious display on its property, it cannot exclude others, officials have said, but some people still aren't happy.
"To me that's intolerant and demeaning to put next to a holy symbol," Gregory Novak, said of the anti-religion sign.
The former Arlington Heights resident, who visited the Nativity recently with his family, said he is not against having multiple displays of varying beliefs in the park, but that the wording on the Freedom From Religion sign offended him.
"What was supposed to be about tolerance has become intolerance," he said. "Why is it OK to attack and demean our beliefs or say our viewpoint is wrong?"
Leaders of the group that put up the sign disagree.
"A manger scene has a doctrinal, theological message. It depicts the supposed birth of the savior. We don't believe that is correct," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has similar ones around the country.
She said her group does not proactively put up signs but acts in response to Nativity scenes. "To leave that manger scene unchallenged at a public park sends a message of endorsement from the government," she said. "For those of us who are not Christian or not religious, walking by a manger scene on public property feels offensive."
Park District Executive Director Steve Scholten said that both the Nativity and the Freedom From Religion sign are the same as last year. He said the new policy, which will also allow public displays in Memorial Park near Memorial Day next year, has been helpful.
"The two groups complied with all the timing factors, they installed the displays and they will take them out within the next week or so," he said. "The policy accomplished some of the management that we needed to institute."