FFRF Files New Lawsuit Against Indiana School District That Kept Nativity Scene in Holiday Concert

In September, I posted about Concord High School in Indiana, where the holiday concert included a full-blown Nativity Play:

You could even watch it on YouTube (1:20:09):

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the District back in August warning them against doing it again in 2015:

It is illegal for a public school to endorse religion to students by organizing a religious performance, such as acting out the exclusively Christian legend of Jesus’s birth. The performance has a clearly devotional message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school…

Centering the high school’s holiday concert around the nativity is illegal even if participation in the nativity scene is voluntary…

The simple solution is for Concord Community Schools to devise a winter concert centered around secular values like family, giving, and community, rather than focusing on the religious aspects of one specific holiday.

At a School Board meeting that week, the room was packed with Nativity defenders, one of whom was the District’s Superintendent:

District Superintendent John Trout read his prepared statement.

“For more than 30 years, the Spectacular has been an important part of the Concord High School holiday experience. It will continue to do so,” Trout said, adding that Concord Schools would not engage in a public media fight.

He also noted that participation in the Nativity scene is voluntary and the scene is rehearsed after school, and stated that this scene provides historical context to the holiday season.

A better administrator would know it’s irrelevant that participation in the Nativity scene was voluntary and that rehearsals took place after school. If it’s a part of the show, it’s an endorsement by the school, full stop. That’s why it couldn’t remain in there. No other religion received that much air time during the program, and there was no secular purpose for including the birth of Christ in the show. (It’s also irrelevant that the District, in response to FFRF’s initial letter, promised to include a couple of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs and eliminated direct Bible readings. That didn’t balance out the Nativity reenactment.)

The ACLU and FFRF called for the courts to put a stop to this since the administrators were too irresponsible to do it themselves, and U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a preliminary ruling against the District in December saying they could not have the Nativity Scene in the upcoming concert.

Because the live nativity celebrates a religious message, which a government entity like Concord cannot endorse, DeGuilio ruled, “the Plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits on their claim that the inclusion of the living nativity scene in the show, as currently proposed, violates the Establishment Clause.”

“A live nativity is a shocking violation to encounter in a public school, which has no business directing students to engage in devotional, sectarian performances,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This decision is a win for everyone who recognizes that there can be no freedom of religious belief without freedom from religion in government and in our public schools.”

That seemed pretty definitive. No live nativity!

It’s also worth noting that the plaintiffs in the case included a student who would be performing in the show and his father, so this wasn’t just some “outside” groups coming into the community. These were people in the community who asked national groups to help them resolve a problem in their hometown. If push came to shove and there was a lawsuit, the plaintiffs would have legal standing.

So how did all of that finally play out?

The concert took place in mid-December… and the Nativity scene was still there.

Saturday’s performance of the school’s Christmas Spectacular included a different version of the nativity scene where the school used statues instead.

The sold out crowd at Concord High School erupted with applause following the school’s use of statues to keep the nativity scene.

So it wasn’t a “living” Nativity. It was a “still-life” Nativity. It’s like they found a loophole…

Guess what? It’s the same damn thing. A puppet show promoting the birth of Christ would have been equally problematic.

As expected, though, the ignorant locals who believe it’s the District’s job to promote Christianity and no other faith were thrilled:

I’d like to say ‘we won.’ There was a lot of happy people in there tonight,” said Doug Johnson, the grandparent of a Concord student.

“It’s very emotional. I was actually tearful when I came out,” said parent Roberta Gooding.

“I felt like it was all done in very good taste and we could honor the birth of Jesus and still other cultures could be, could have their say as well,” said Gooding.

Just to paraphrase that last parent, the concert honored the Christian faith… while paying lip service to a few other groups that she can’t even bring herself to name specifically.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has not yet responded to the school’s use of the nativity scene. But, many parents say they don’t care what the FFRF thinks.

Well, there’s finally a response to the District’s negligence.

The FFRF filed an amended lawsuit yesterday — with two more plaintiffs added to the case. In addition to the father/son duo, the other plaintiffs are both fathers of students who took part in the Christmas Spectacular show.

To blunt the criticism so often leveled at church/state separation groups, FFRF isn’t doing this for money. They’re asking the courts to award the plaintiffs only $1 each in damages (in addition to the usual court costs and lawyers’ fees).

This is an administration that cannot be trusted. They have already shown that they will do anything they can to promote Christianity during the winter concert. What they need now is a court ruling that stops them for good — and perhaps forces them (and by extension, the taxpayers) to pay a penalty for every violation.

(Thanks to Brian for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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