.- Easter Sunday will mark not only the celebration of Christ's resurrection, but will also serve as an opportunity to express religious freedom, says a Catholic legal expert.
“We just want to keep making the point out in public that religion is not something that should be kept private,” said president and chief counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, Tom Brejcha.
The Thomas More Society, a pro-bono public interest law firm dedicated to defending pro-life, religious freedom and traditional marriage cases, is in its fifth year of helping sponsor an Easter display and prayer service in Chicago's Daley Center Plaza.
This year, beginning on Holy Thursday, a 14-foot tall cross and a 10-foot tall image of Divine Mercy will be shrouded in purple linens right alongside the towering Chicago Picasso sculpture in the square that is routinely home to political protests and rallies.
“If you can get up on your soapbox and spout your politics, likewise you can get up there and preach your faith,” he told CNA April 3.
A public prayer vigil beginning on Holy Thursday will run until Divine Mercy Sunday on April 15.
On Easter Sunday, the linens on the cross will be changed to white and the image of Divine Mercy will be unveiled as part of a daybreak ecumenical prayer service beginning at 6:30 a.m.
While private liturgies are important, Brejcha said, “religion is not something that should be kept private or within the confines of a church building.”
Although the group has been involved in helping sponsor a nativity display in the plaza each year, they decided to add an Easter display the spring following a battle to allow a private group to play trailers for “The Nativity Story” during a Christmas festival in the plaza in 2007.
“There was a little rumbling at the time, but again, we reminded them about the permanent injunction and religious speech not being discriminated against and our permit was approved.”
In 1989, the City of Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union tried to deem a nativity scene in front of City Hall unconstitutional because the display was stored in a government building when not in use.
Jennifer Neubauer, a private lawyer who later served as chairman of Thomas More Society, secured a permanent federal court order which denied discrimination against religious speech in public.
“We use that (court order) all over the place for privately-funded, privately-sponsored groups,” Brejcha said.
He emphasized that because this ruling was settled in federal court, private citizens across the nation have the right to publicly express their religion and that his organization would be “happy to help anyone” who wants to set up a religious display in their area.
“I think there ought to be a nativity scene or an Easter cross, or Divine Mercy icon in every public square, not only in Illinois, but all over the country.”