The forces are gathering in Elkhart, Indiana to fight to keep a Christmas tradition alive. As we reported last week, the Freedom from Religion Foundation is pulling their annual stunt of claiming a local unnamed resident has complained about religious elements in an annual Christmas concert event sponsored by a local high school — in this case, Concord High School in Elkhart, Indiana. The FFRF says to remove that part of the program or they will sue the school district.
Since then more than 6000 individuals have joined a Facebook group in support of keeping the concert as it has been and fundraisers have begun selling green t-shirts that say “The Nativity is a biblical story. A story filled with lessons that are relevant to all of us. At the core of the Nativity are illustrations of Love, Compassion, Peace, and Respect. These values are universal in nature… they are relevant to everyone.”
The FFRF has told the school district the Nativity portion of the performance is “illegal” and “inappropriate.” They claim that allowing religious music and messaging at the concert violates the separation between Church and State and that such is unconstitutional.
Concord High supporters need to answer the FFRF with a little schooling of their own:
1. They can perform whatever they want and that is protected by the First Amendment.
2. The Constitution says NOTHING about the separation of Church and State. The constitution prohibits CONGRESS from establishing a state religion. A school singing at Christmas hardly constitutes establishing a religion. It’s a concert, not a baptism.
3. Anyone who feels the content of the Christmas program is inappropriate is advised to simply not attend.
This, of course, is not about separating Church and State. This is a wholesale attack on Christianity — and education. And the FFRF does it every year.
A Virginia school board has voted to use the words “Merry Christmas” on school marquees later this year. Risking lawsuits and bad publicity the Powhatan County School Board in Virginia made the decision after residents approached them three times in the past year to say Merry Christmas.
Christopher Smith of Powhatan came before the board at meetings in October and December 2014 and then again in May 2015 to make the request. He spoke alone at first, but in the subsequent meetings, he brought an increasing number of supporters.
Board members had agreed in earlier meetings that for the sake of inclusiveness, having the message on school marquees presented too many potential pitfalls and was an opportunity for some group to be left off. But the superintendent of the school board took a straw poll after checking with attorneys and recent case law on the use of “Merry Christmas”.
Even still — just to be sure no one is left out and the chances of a lawsuit is minimized — the school district declared the marquees will say “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays”.
The world breathlessly awaits the public outcry over this bold decision.
The state of Virginia has not passed a “Merry Christmas” bill protecting schools from litigation on this matter so the stakes are quite high.
Talk about Christmas creep: the calendar just turned to September but already the Freedom From Religion Foundation is looking to impose it’s beliefs on everyone by suing a school for performing traditional Christmas carols. According to local media in Elkhart, Indiana the FFRF has claimed someone from the local community complained to them (it is NEVER to a local school board) about the traditional Christmas concert put on by Concord High School. They are threatening to sue on behalf of this individual.
As usual, the complainer is never identified. He or she may not even exist.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter last week to Superintendent John Trout calling the celebration “illegal” and “inappropriate,” and called on the district to ensure religious themes are not included in the 2015 holiday concert. And the organization said it will consider legal action against the district if the scene is repeated this holiday season.
The FFRF does this every year beginning around this time and continuing through the Christmas season. Some school districts immediately change concert plans while others make more of a fuss. It is too early to tell which way school officials at Concord High will respond.
The Christmas concert of Concord High is quite the tradition. It is a two hour program that usually features a mostly secular program of traditional holiday songs. But the climax of the program, usually the last fifteen minutes, features a nativity depiction on stage with songs such as “We Three Kings” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” being performed.
For now, school officials have only responded with this terse statement:
Recently, Concord Community Schools received a letter from the Madison, Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation questioning an aspect of one of the high school music department’s performances. As in past dealings with Concord Schools, that foundation provided copies of its letter to the local media before school administrators were able to review the letter. It is a long standing practice of Concord Schools to not publicly comment on concerns, valid or invalid, initially raised by students, parents, or patrons to the media instead of first addressing them with school administrators. Rest assured that Concord Schools routinely reviews all of its programs, curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular, to ensure not only compliance with legal and financial standards, but also the educational goals of the school corporation. Consistent with its past practice, Concord Schools will have no further public comment concerning the letter received from the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Clearly the battle lines have been drawn. An event takes place like this every year thanks to the FFRF. We’ll see how this one turns out.
Tis the season for extending the reach of Merry Christmas legislation in two more states — Arkansas and Indiana. The state senate in Indiana passed their version of the Merry Christmas Bill earlier this week and a nearly identical measure has just been introduced in Arkansas by Representative Justin T. Harris.
Harris says the bill will “allow students and school district staff to offer traditional greetings regarding celebrations, including Merry Christmas.” The bill, HB 1272, also makes mention of other holiday greetings including “Happy Hanukkah” and “Happy Holidays.” The bill states that scenes or symbols associated with a traditional winter celebration, including a menorah or Christmas image, can be placed on school property. It also states those same scenes and symbols may not include a message that encourages adherence to a particular religious belief.
The bills are largely designed to prevent threats of lawsuits, which most often come from out-of-state operations of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, who claim they have received a “complaint”.
In Indiana the Senate Education Committee unanimously backed a similar measure, which would allow schools to have Nativity scenes or other Yuletide decorations, as long as another religious or secular holiday is recognized. It would also permit history lessons about winter holidays and traditional holiday greetings, including “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.”
These two states continue a five year trend by local legislators to protect schools from lawsuits.
Thousands of signatures, a very public protest and hours of debate could not change the 3-2 vote — Marshfield schools will exclude Christmas in describing their holiday break on the school calendars.
More than 4,000 parents in Marshfield signed a petition to change the name of the school break in December and January to Christmas, break from the recently rebranded holiday break.
The School Board met to discuss the decision Monday night, but after two hours the voted to keep the name holiday break.
“Marshfield is not a diverse community. It’s very important that we do whatever we can to expose our students to the global world that they are not part of yet,” School Board Chairman Marti Morrison said.
Parents in support of Christmas break said the school is trying to abolish all things Christian.
“It’s not a way to accept all students. What it’s doing is excluding the Christian faith.” Elaine Taylor, a parent, said.
Nearly 200 parents and residents were at the meeting, most of those who spoke agreed with the name holiday break.
“The school calendar should reflect the diversity of all the students in this town, not just the majority of them,” one parent said.
The school board said they celebrate all the holidays and faiths over the break in December, including Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas and after receiving complaints through email, felt changing the name to include everyone was the right thing to do.
The two hours of public comment was followed by a 3-2 vote in favor of keeping the name holiday break.