MORRIS – The Grundy County Courthouse lawn will be open this holiday season to people religious and nonreligious alike.
While the lawn traditionally has held in December a Nativity scene owned by the Morris Ministerial Association, this year a menorah has joined the decorations, and banners are expected to be installed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well as the Temple of Harmony.
“In Illinois the county’s sheriff has custody of the courthouse. In 2013 we received a letter from the Freedom From Religion group in Wisconsin stating we had a manger alone on the lawn,” Assistant State’s Attorney Perry Rudman said. “They questioned the laws and cited various court cases supporting the removal.”
Rudman said the letter stated the county could face the possibility of a lawsuit if it didn’t remove the Nativity scene.
In 2014, the county received a letter from Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., again citing the court cases and requesting the Nativity scene be removed or the county would face a lawsuit.
After some research, Rudman said he advised the sheriff to open the lawn to any group that would like to post a display during the holiday time and helped to create an application for the process.
“When I asked the ministerial association about other displays, they had no opposition to other displays being added to the lawn,” Rudman said.
Rudman reached out during a six-month period to various groups, inviting them to apply to have a display.
In response to his request, three additional groups have applied to be included.
Patrick Elliott, staff attorney with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said that while his group would prefer that no displays be present on government property, he feels the county has
addressed the legal issue.
He said the group will be setting up its own display
similar to ones it’s had in Chicago, Arlington Heights, Streator and Ottawa. The display will show the founding fathers looking at the Constitution with admiration.
“Our members are non-religious so we look at winter solstice, and the Bill of Rights was signed in December,” he said.
While Elliott disagrees with any display being present, the group is willing to participate now that the lawn is open to all.
Todd Fink with the Temple of Harmony in Joliet intends to hang a banner that will show symbols for many different religions.
“We work with groups on an interfaith basis,” Fink said. “We focus on the religious and spiritual beliefs of compassion, peace and forgiveness.”
The Temple of Harmony practices Kriya Yoga, an ancient path of mediation.
Rudman said he also spoke with a Chabad rabbi who was interested in having a menorah installed. When there was a mix-up in communication and it appeared there wouldn’t be one locally available, pastor Richard Giovannetti took it upon himself to have one made and displayed on the lawn.