FFRF, ACLU win injunction against Indiana school’s live nativity

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU of Indiana on behalf of a family in Elkhart, Indiana, this year's Concord Community School's holiday concert will not include an overt endorsement of Christianity.

U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio today issued an order prohibiting Concord Community Schools from performing a live nativity scene in its 2015 Christmas Spectacular holiday concert. For decades, the school district had students perform a 20-minute live nativity enactment, complete with religious music and a faculty member narrating the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. 

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."

In his decision, DeGuilio noted that throughout the history of the Christmas Spectacular, "the nativity scene is emphasized in a manner unlike any other aspect of the show" and that it "conveys solemnity and reverence, as if the audience is being asked to venerate the nativity, not simply acknowledge or appreciate its place in the winter holiday season."

"Holiday celebrations that proselytize students are inappropriate in public schools," said Heather L. Weaver, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney. "Today's ruling makes that clear and ensures that all students and families, regardless of faith or belief, will feel welcome at Concord High's winter concert."

"The court's ruling relates to our joint motion for a preliminary injunction, so it applies only to the 2015 Christmas Spectacular," noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "However, the court has strongly suggested that the nativity scene is unconstitutional, which has significant implications for the case as a whole, challenging all future performances."

For now, the parties will continue to prepare for an eventual trial on the merits while the Concord performing arts department prepares for a crèche-less holiday concert.

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.

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