Illinois Capitol Building Taking All Comers This Christmas

The rotunda of the Illinois Capitol is poised to once again become home to various religious and civic displays this Christmas.

Last year, a private group was given approval to place a nativity scene on the main floor of the Statehouse.

That move sparked others to apply for nearby space to display symbols, ranging from a Jewish menorah to a simple aluminum pole honoring the fictitious holiday of “Festivus.”

The result: State workers and visitors to the Capitol were greeted with an obstacle course of displays.

Earlier this month, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee — the same group that placed the nativity scene in the building in 2008 — was again given permission from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White to erect the display beginning Nov. 30.

Dan Zanoza, a Lincoln resident who spearheaded the nativity scene last year, said he hopes this year’s display will spur others to erect religious displays in public buildings across the nation.

“I believe in the First Amendment and I believe in freedom of speech,” Zanoza said.

White’s office is responsible for issuing permits to groups who desire to participate in a public forum inside Illinois’ state Capitol building. He grants permission as long as the displays meet certain guidelines.

The nativity scene apparently won’t be alone again this year.

White spokesman Henry Haupt said the American Civil Liberties Union also has received permission to place a tabletop display of the First Amendment in December.

Last year, a group of atheists based in Madison, Wis., also erected a display.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sign read, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world.”

Zanoza said he is considering making a push to erect a nativity in the Wisconsin Capitol, but said he’s hoping someone in that state takes up the cause.

Last year’s controversy came with a tinge of humor when a Springfield teenager received permission last year to erect a “Festivus” pole next to the other displays.

Festivus is an outgrowth of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld.” Character George Costanza’s angry dad created the fake holiday. Revelers gathered around an aluminum pole and couldn’t leave until someone pinned the head of the household to the floor.

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