The God Squad, a group of carpenters and tradesmen, donated their time and energies Nov. 27 to construct a one-of-a-kind Christmas display at Daley Center Plaza in downtown Chicago, reported The Illinois Leader.
Every year, the volunteers build one of the world's largest Nativity scenes around Thanksgiving and take it down on the last day of December.
The God Squad is headed and financed by retired businessman and Catholic activist Jim Finnegan, and business owner and founder of the Walsh Forum radio program Dick Walsh.
"We have received cell phone calls from people who are standing in front of the nativity scene, telling us how much they appreciate what we are doing," Finnegan told IllinoisLeader.com.
But city officials did not always welcome the display. A report in The Illinois Leader traces the history of the display.
In 1987, Chicago city attorney Judson Miner declared that the Nativity scene, located on the City Hall's property, violated the principle of separation of church and state and that "it was time to get rid of the thing."
The late pastor, Fr. Hiram Crawford, and activist William Grutzmacher decided they would fight to "keep Christ in Christmas", and they led a group of citizens into Miner’s office. After the meeting, the crèche was moved to the Daley Center Plaza, a traditional venue for free speech, including political demonstrations.
That year, TV news crews also taped city workers demolishing the Nativity scene. People from as far away as Germany called City Hall to protest, saying they could "not believe this could happen in America."
Two years later, Federal Judge James B. Parsons decided on behalf of Grutzmacher to allow the Nativity scene display during the Christmas season. The Dec. 4, 1989 ruling was made despite opposition from the American Jewish Congress, the ACLU, American Atheists, and the circulators of a petition, which was even signed by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, archbishop of Chicago.
"Our founding fathers didn't intend to take religion out of the state, they took state out of religion," Finnegan told IllinoisLeader.com. "It would be our hope that other persons would take on the challenge of putting Christ back into Christmas in their area, by being responsible for a similar display in their towns."