Elkhart school officials flout message of Bill of Rights

“Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all” was most certainly not the message being sent by the Concord Community School District in Elkhart, Ind., at its weekend Christmas concerts.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana won a preliminary injunction in early December halting a longtime abuse at the annual “Christmas Spectacular” school concert. It involved a 20-minute enactment by students of the nativity while bible verses were read. FFRF and John and Jack Doe sued scene Concord Community Schools in October, with the help of the ACLU. Jack Doe is involved in the performing arts department and took part in the 2015 concerts.

U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio explicitly barred the “live nativity” in his preliminary injunction. So how did the school respond?

It set up a life-sized nativity scene using mannequins. As ABC-57 News reported: “The sold-out crowd at Concord High School erupted with applause following the school’s use of statues to keep the nativity scene.” Many in the school district are congratulating themselves that they “got around” the judge’s ruling.

Unquestionably, the district, in thumbing its nose at the ruling, broke the spirit of the judge’s injunction, compounding the violation by including a nativity display at its public school concert, which is also illegal. Imagine the distress of the student plaintiff during the four concerts involving the illegal religious display and eruptions of support for it.

Imagine, too, the discomfort of nonreligious students and non-Christian students when their school goes out of its way to flout the law.

Speculation over the identity of the local plaintiffs has been rife and ugly on social media. It appears the entire community and school district are aligned against one young student.

That’s why the Supreme Court, for more than 65 years, has wisely interpreted the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as barring any religious instruction, devotions or rituals in our public schools. Religion in school creates walls between children, accentuates differences, turns believers into favored “insiders” and nonbelievers or minority believers into favored “outsiders” (precisely the way the majority is acting in Elkhart).

Instead of figuring out new and creative ways to violate the Constitution, the Concord Community School District should be honoring the student and student’s family for standing up for the First Amendment. It protects us all.

Tomorrow marks Bill of Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights was enacted in part to protect freedom of conscience from the tyranny of the majority. The framers of our secular Constitution knew the only way to preserve true religious liberty was to keep church and state separate.

Concord Community School District officials have dug their hole even deeper with this contemptuous move, and strengthened FFRF’s case through their hubris. While we know reason and the law will prevail, district officials deserve the strongest rebukes for their callous manipulation.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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