The Chicago Nativity Scene will be dedicated in Daly Plaza in downtown on Saturday, Nov. 28 at 11 a.m., organizers have announced. The tradition was born in controversy in the 1980s when the city ordered its display permit revoked and the display itself to be destroyed.
The life-sized crèche has been an annual tradition at the plaza since 1985, Nativity Scene Committee co-chair Terrance Hodges said in a press release. He reported that it is the “sole religious expression of Christmas” on a government plaza in downtown Chicago.
A group of volunteer tradesmen known as The God Squad will erect the scene and install the lighting. They have done so for the past 23 years.
R. Stephen Lesniewski of Immaculate Conception Parish on Chicago’s southwest side will bless the crèche. Other members of the clergy will offer prayers.
Children in attendance will place the Infant Jesus in the manger. Display organizers said this marks “the continued return of the Christ Child to His rightful place in the hearts of the Chicago community.”
The bell choir from Santa Maria del Popolo Catholic Church in Mundelein, Illinois will perform and Christmas hymns will be sung.
Until 1985 the City of Chicago had erected a Nativity Scene in the lobby of City Hall each year during the Christmas season, a history of the display written by Terrence Hodges says.
In October 1985 Sylvia Neil, the Midwest Legal Director for the American Jewish Congress, asked the city not allow the Nativity Scene. The American Jewish Congress sued the city and initially lost, but won the appeal in a 1987 decision at the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.
City attorney Judson Miner did not appeal the decision. According to Hodges, he told backers of the display that it violated the separation of church and state and that it was “time to get rid of that thing.”
A group decided to erect the Nativity Scene in Daley Plaza across the street and secured a permit from the Public Building Commission to place a small Nativity Scene. The Commission, under pressure from the American Jewish Congress, reversed its decision to issue the permit and ordered county employees to demolish the Nativity Scene.
The demolition, which was broadcast on prime time television, caused protest from around the world.
In 1989 a federal judge ruled that the Public Building Commission could not discriminate against all forms of religious expression and allowed the Nativity Scene. Opposing the decision were the American Jewish Congress, the American Civil Liberties Union, American Atheists and various signatories of a petition.
The Nativity Scene will remain in Daley Plaza throughout the Christmas season.