On Saturday, November 24th, the God Squad will again erect Chicago's largest and most visible Nativity Scene at the Daley Center Plaza. Construction begins at 9 A.M. with a dedication ceremony and Christmas carol sing along to follow at approximately 10:30.
It is truly an impressive sight to watch dozens of skilled craftsmen construct this reminder of that most magnificent night when the heaven's burst forth in song, “Gloria in excelsis Deo” to announce the birth of the Prince of Peace.
But our crèche represents more than the birth of our Saviour. It is a testimony to the Constitution's guarantees of the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and the right of the people to peacefully assemble. Most Chicagoans have no idea how close we came to losing these rights. Terrance Hodge's history of the Nativity Scene shares the details of how a few brave men stood up to City Hall. This is one of the first tellings of an epic battle by a group of persecuted Christians--Catholic and Protestant--against the Chicago political machine. Thanks to them, every knee can bend in prayer on public property.
Lest ye thinks this is no big deal, the town of Berkley, Michigan last wek voted down an amendment which would have allowed a Nativity Scene on the lawn outside city hall.
-- Dan Gura --
HISTORY OF NATIVITY SCENE AT CHICAGO'S DALEY PLAZA by TERRY HODGES
In 1985, for as long as anyone could remember, the City of Chicago had always erected a nativity scene in the lobby of City Hall each year during the Christmas season. The display was there every year--in times of war and peace, through good times and bad. It was a warm and welcome sign to anyone entering City Hall from the cold of Chicago's Decembers that the Christmas season had arrived and was duly recognized out of respect for the Christian heritage of the United States of America and the people of Chicago.
However, by 1985, a sea change had occurred in Chicago politics and the moral climate as well. After the death in 1976 of long time mayor Richard J. Daley, a devout Roman Catholic, the office of mayor was held in succession by two of his protégés, Michael Bilandic and Jayne Byrne. In 1983, Harold Washington became Chicago's first black mayor. Mayor Washington kept his campaign pledge to make significant changes in city government, including the selection of a new cabinet. One of his appointments was a rather arrogant attorney named Judson Miner to the position of Corporation Counsel, the head of the city's legal department.
In a letter dated October 22, 1985, Sylvia Neil, Midwest Legal Director for the American Jewish Congress requested the City of Chicago not allow the erection of the nativity scene in the lobby of City Hall. The American Jewish Congress eventually sued the City over the issue and lost. However, upon appeal, the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's decision in a 2-1 opinion written by Judge Flaum on August 18, 1987. Judson Miner said the City of Chicago would not appeal.
When news broke that City Hall was ending the time-honored tradition of a having a nativity scene in the lobby at Christmas, a group of Chicagoans headed by William Grutzmacher and a black minister, the late Rev. Hiram C. Crawford, went to the office of Judson Miner requesting an explanation of his position in support of the order to remove the nativity scene. Miner refused to meet with the group until Mr. Grutzmacher informed a secretary that if Miner did not allow them into his office and meet with his group, they had better call the police because they would refuse to leave City Hall until Miner spoke with them. Finally, Miner admitted them to his office and told them besides violating the principle of separation of church and state, it was "time to get rid of that thing."
Mr. Grutzmacher's group decided if the City of Chicago government was going to evict the Christian holiday display from City Hall, they would erect their own across the street in the Daley Center Plaza--public property long used as a venue for expression of free speech including political demonstrations. He applied for and received a permit from the Public Building Commission to place a nativity scene in Daley Plaza. Grutzmacher purchased a relatively small nativity scene set and a group of volunteers erected it in Daley Plaza and took turns standing guard. In a move that shocked the world, the Public Building Commission, yielding to pressure from the American Jewish Congress, reversed itself and ordered county employees to demolish the nativity scene late one afternoon--just in time for TV news crews to film the entire episode. Pictures of government employees demolishing the set and struggling with Grutzmacher and his volunteers over the little statues made prime time news around the world. Angry calls of protest came from as far away as Germany by people who could not believe this could happen in America.
In case number 87 C 10746, Grutzmacher v. Public Building Commission, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Senior Federal District Judge James B. Parsons ruled on Dec. 4, 1989 that the Public Building Commission was enjoined from discriminating against all forms of religious expression and ordered the Public Building Commission to permit Grutzmacher to erect a nativity scene display during the Christmas season. This expensive lawsuit was won against opposition from the American Jewish Congress, ACLU, American Atheists, and the circulators of a petition opposing the nativity scene signed by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago.
In 1996, William Grutzmacher retired and moved from the Chicago area. Before leaving, he contacted two friends, Jim Finnegan and Terry Hodges, about continuation of what had become a Christmas tradition every year in Daley Plaza: display of one of the largest nativity scene sets in the world. They agreed this wonderful tradition of keeping Christ in Christmas should continue and made the moral and financial commitment it would.
The Nativity Scene Committee has pledged to continue to erect this display in Chicago's Daley Plaza every Christmas with the help of a group of volunteer tradesmen that has become known as the "God Squad." The Nativity Scene Committee depends upon the grace of God and the generosity of those who wish to keep Christ in Christmas.
Donations are most welcome and may be sent to the Nativity Scene Committee, 11811 Will-Cook Road, Palos Park, IL 60464. E-mail inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.orgUPDATE: In 2008 for the first time in history a Nativity scene stood in Illinois' state capitol Rotunda Building. This year (2009) the Nativity scene display will again stand in Springfield sponsored by the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee (SNSC). Those who would like to contribute to the SNSC can make a check or money order payable to the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee and mail their donation to: SNSC, Dan Zanoza, Chairman, 904 21st St., # 71, Lincoln, IL 62656 For those who would like to make a tax deductible contribution to the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee and have a PayPal account, please go to the Thomas More Society's (TMS) web page http://www.thomasmoresociety.org/ and click on "Donate". Those who electronically contribute to the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee through the TMS website should make a special notation that their donation is meant for the Springfield Nativity Scene. For more information about the Springfield Nativity Scene go to: http://rffm.typepad.com/republicans_for_fair_medi/2009/11/aclu-again-not-challenging-springfield-illinois-nativity-scene-isnt-that-special-it-is.html or send an e-mail to: email@example.com NOTE: The Chicago Nativity Scene and the Springfield Nativity Scene displays are not officially connected. The sponsoring groups are two separate entities. Anyone wishing to receive RFFM.org e-mails should contact: Dan@rffm.org