Federal Judge: No Nativity Scene in Indiana High School Play


Concord High School in Indiana has been told its 2015 Christmas Spectacular must not include a Nativity scene according to a ruling by a federal judge.

A preliminary injunction was granted by US District Judge E. Deguilio in a federal lawsuit against Concord Community Schools, reports Jessica Durando of USA Today. The order read that the show “conveys a message of endorsement of religion, or that a particular religious belief is favored or preferred.”

“Accordingly, the court finds that 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,” the judge wrote.

The suit was filed with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an organization that advocates for the separation of church and state, and one student and his father. The student is a member of the program’s cast.

Superintendent John Trout of the Concord Community Schools said he was disappointed in the decision. He explained that the Concord High School music department was attempting to ensure that the program would comply with the court order, while at the same time looking into an appeal of the preliminary injunction.

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated that a live nativity scene should not be allowed in a public school because it means that students will be required to engage in what is a sectarian devotional performance. She added that there could be no freedom of religious belief without freedom from religion as well.

Since the pretrial conference for the case will not take place until January 7, the show will go on without the live Nativity scene. But attorneys for Concord said the lawsuit had been filed too early. They explained that the 2015 Christmas Spectacular had not been written when the complaint was made. They said if the plaintiffs had waited, they would have known that no Bible readings would be included and that the holidays Kwanzaa and Hanukkah were to be included.

But the judge said the Christmas Spectacular had been presented for the last 27 years, and possibly the last 45 years, in the same form. And when the suit was filed the program had already begun rehearsals. He continued by pointing out that the mere addition of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa to the 2015 performance does not make the Nativity scene constitutional, says The Elkhart Truth’s Michelle Sokol. The Hanukkah and Kwanzaa portions are displayed on a television screen onstage and the Nativity is depicted by students.

According to James Fegan of WSJV-TV Elkhart, Deguilio said the Nativity scene appears to endorse religion and violates the Establishment clause of the 1st Amendment, which keeps the state from “establishing a religion.”

Parents and students were surprised by the ruling, reports Joel Porter of WNDU-TV, But Heather Weaver, an ACLU attorney, said now all students, no matter their religion, can attend and feel welcome at the performance. Weaver also stated that proselytizing students was not something that should be done in public schools. For now, all involved will prepare for the upcoming trial while the Concord performing arts department prepares for a manger-less holiday concert.