Should Mundelein allow religious holiday displays on public property?

  • Fireworks go off over the gazebo during Mundelein's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Kracklauer Park last December. A resident wants a Hanukkah menorah added to the village's winter holiday display.

    Fireworks go off over the gazebo during Mundelein's annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Kracklauer Park last December. A resident wants a Hanukkah menorah added to the village's winter holiday display. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer 2016

 
 
Updated 8/29/2017 6:13 AM

Mundelein officials want to hear from the community before deciding whether to add a Hanukkah menorah or other religious decorations to public property this winter.

Trustees discussed the issue Monday night in response to an email from a resident who noticed the village's official winter holiday displays only featured Christian symbols -- particularly a large, decorated tree at Kracklauer Park.

 

That resident, Jason Lenhoff, requested a Hanukkah menorah -- a nine-branch candleholder also called a hanukkiah -- be added.

Federal courts have ruled a Christmas tree is a secular symbol and a menorah is a religious symbol.

On Monday, trustees said they're concerned adding a menorah would open the door to other religious groups insisting their faiths be represented. Village attorney Charles Marino held that stance, too.

"If you do allow one, you're going to have to allow others as well," Marino said.

Some trustees also raised concerns about who would pay for and maintain the various decorations.

Trustee Ray Semple suggested delaying a decision for a month until residents could express their opinions on social media. But Semple -- an outspoken critic of social media sites -- also said he believes trustees will look "like idiots" no matter what they decide.

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The board eventually informally agreed to put information about the issue on the village's website, mundelein.org, and to invite feedback.

Mundelein's tradition of Christmas displays dates to the 1960s. At one time, the town's display was set up outside the old village hall on Hawley Street, and it contained a Christmas tree and other decorations.

The village was sued in 1987 by a resident and the American Jewish Congress after a scene representing Jesus' birth was added, but the village won the case.

A menorah was part of the village hall display in 1996 and 1997. In 1998, officials approved a new display that didn't contain a Nativity scene or a menorah.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Urging caution, Marino said officials would have to add a Nativity scene if they display a menorah.

"From a legal point of view, this is pretty simplistic," he said. "Government cannot endorse religion, nor can it endorse one religion over another."

The village and the Mundelein Park District have jointly held a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Kracklauer Park since 2000. The village also hosts a Santa's Cottage attraction in the grassy plaza outside village hall.

During the public comment section near the start of the board meeting, resident Anne Walker said she supported the addition of a menorah to the holiday display, but also requested a Nativity scene "to represent the Christian values of the people of the community."

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