SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The coronavirus has extinguished some traditional holiday cheer at the Illinois Capitol.
There will be no Christmas tree nor any holiday displays inside or outside the building, The State Journal-Register reported.
The Capitol for months has been closed to all but employees and others with permission. Tours were suspended months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lights on the Capitol dome won’t be used for the second consecutive year. Engineers have recommended that an observation deck, which is typically used to anchor the lights, should be fortified.
“We are working with the Capital Development Board to procure funding for this project,” said Henry Haupt, spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White.
White's office typically puts up a giant artificial tree in the rotunda, stretching from the first floor to the second. Not this year, said Haupt, noting public access restrictions.
The prohibition on temporary holiday displays includes a Christian Nativity scene and the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s "Winter Solstice,” which knocks religion.
“This seems like a very good move,” foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “We don’t want to bring people in to look at things when there is a pandemic going around. So long as there are no displays, we don’t need to be there to have an equal time display.”
Rabbi Meir Moscowitz said he's looking for another place in Springfield to place a menorah to celebrate Hanukkah.
“It’s a reminder of religious freedom and, I think in today’s climate, on so many levels, it’s very encouraging and important to have this symbol of light, this symbol of positivity even more than ever,” Moscowitz said.
White’s office has allowed diverse temporary displays as long as public money isn't involved.
Because the first floor of the Capitol rotunda is a public space, "state officials cannot legally censor the content of speech or displays,” a sign says.