Two more parents join Indiana nativity lawsuit

Two parents have joined an October lawsuit challenging an annual nativity performance at Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Indiana filed the original suit on Oct. 7, 2015, along with a local parent and student.

For several decades, Concord High has organized a “Christmas Spectacular” each winter. Every performance for the public, of which there were four in 2014, “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,” notes the original complaint. Read the lawsuit here

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 “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.”

A video of the 2014 Nativity performance can be viewed here.

Jack Doe, a student at the school and a plaintiff in the original lawsuit, is a member of the performing arts department, and John Doe is his father. On Monday, concerned parents of two other Concord High School students who also participate in performing arts have become plaintiffs as John Noe and John Roe. (Attendance and performance at the “Christmas Spectacular” is mandatory for students enrolled in the performing arts department.)

The new parent plaintiffs are also seeking anonymity in order to protect their families from the vitriol and open hostility the Doe family has received. This includes a death threat that was sent to FFRF in December, targeting Staff Attorney and co-counsel Sam Grover and a family that some have speculated is the Doe family.

“I will make it my life’s mission to one day (in the next weeks, months or even years) when you think this is all done and forgotten about, to find you and the [redacted family name],” reads the email. “I will cut you into pieces and feed you to the fishes in the Elkhart River (Please note that I will enjoy this).”

The missive ends on this note: “Do yourself a favor, and believe me, when I say: NO ONE WILL STOP ME!”

U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a temporary injunction on Dec. 2 barring the school from holding the nativity pageant with student actors. Read the ruling here.

In addition to adding two new families as plaintiffs, the updated complaint challenges the nativity enactment as it was modified during the 2015 “Christmas Spectacular,” where the school used mannequins in place of live student performers. FFRF and the ACLU note that this modified nativity scene is no more legal or appropriate than the original show. Both versions exist solely to promote Christianity during a school-sponsored performance in violation of the Constitution. The updated complaint can be seen here

“We had hoped the school district would simply do the right thing and adopt a neutral stance toward religion as it is required to do under the Constitution,” says Grover.

“We are grateful to the new plaintiffs who have joined and strengthened our case, despite the backlash in the community,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “This controversy shows how divisive it is to bring religion into our public schools.”

FFRF has a national enrollment of 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 300 individuals in Indiana.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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