FFRF, ACLU bring suit challenging school’s “Christmas Spectacular” Nativity Scene

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Indiana filed a federal lawsuit today, challenging an annual live nativity performance at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.

The complaint notes that for several decades Concord High School has organized a "Christmas Spectacular" each winter. Every performance, of which there were five last year, "ends with an approximately 20-minute telling of the story of the birth of Jesus, including a live Nativity Scene and a scriptural reading from the Bible. During this segment, students at the High School portray the Virgin Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, shepherds, and angels."

FFRF, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to defending the constitutional principle of the separation between state and church, has brought suit on behalf of its 23,000 members, including more than 360 in Indiana and a local family. Jack Doe, a student at the school, is a member of the performing arts department. Attendance and performance at the Christmas Spectacular is mandatory for students enrolled in the performing arts department.

Attorneys for FFRF and the ACLU argue in the complaint that the nativity performance and the reading of the biblical story of the birth of Jesus are, of course, "well-recognized symbols of the Christian faith. Their presence at the Christmas Spectacular is coercive, represents an endorsement of religion by the High School and the School Corporation, has no secular purpose, and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion."

"FFRF is suing to ensure that nonreligious and non-Christian students are able to fully participate in their school's winter concert," explains FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "The nativity represents the pinnacle of Christian belief and its most holy day. This spectacle would be appropriate at a private Catholic school, but is a blatant and egregious promotion of religion in a public school setting."

“While public schools may recognize and celebrate the secular aspects of winter holidays, they may not endorse or promote religious beliefs and they may not use school functions to coercively subject students to religious messages and proselytizing,” said Heather L. Weaver, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU.  “Incorporating a live Nativity scene and scriptural reading into a public school concert clearly violates the law.”

FFRF has brought suit in conjunction with the ACLU of Indiana and the national ACLU. Attorneys on the case include Sam Grover and Ryan Jayne of FFRF, Gavin Rose of the ACLU of Indiana, and Daniel Mach and Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU. FFRF v. Concord Community Schools, Case No. 3:15-cv-00463, is in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. Judge Jon DeGuilio, a President Obama appointee, has been assigned to the case.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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FFRF is a member of the Secular Coalition for America

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