Both the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation brought the suit against the school when they say they were contacted by a local resident who complained about it. The annual production has been a tradition in the community of Elkhart, Indiana for years without complaint.
As the suit was brought forward officials at Concord High School scrambled to make what they felt should have been acceptable changes by adding Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs and changing the controversial Nativity scene from a live production to static images. But the FFRF in particular balked noting that the Nativity scene and depiction of Jesus Christ were “…coercive, representing an endorsement of religion by the high school and the school corporation, having no secular purpose and has the principal purpose and effect of advancing religion.”
The court ruled that the changes to the production of the Nativity scene did not in fact constitute a violation of the Constitution’s establishment clause.
This debate seems silly to almost anyone who has even read the Constitution. The so-called “Establishment Clause” forbids Congress from establishing a state religion. A high school is not Congress and showing a Nativity scene does not establish anything.
But America has fallen into a trap of political correctness when it comes to cases like these. Because a school is a government run operation the assumption is that if a school depicts or participates in anything religious it is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
The FFRF has threatened schools and school districts nationwide for several years now working to get not only Nativity scenes but even the most remotely religious Christmas carols of antiquity banned from public schools. In most cases, school districts have opted to comply rather than to fight costly lawsuits.
The case is ongoing and the local school district is still facing possible fines for Nativity scenes depicted in previous productions dating back nearly five decades.
The community uprising witnessed in Elkhart, Indiana last month has failed to stop a lawsuit filed in federal court by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the ACLU. The two organizations have pooled resources to fight public will and the expressed sentiments of a local school board defending the performance.
Their argument is that the Nativity portion of the performance is unconstitutional and “illegal”. Even though the event is entirely voluntary the fact that it is sponsored by the high school is reason enough for courts to declare the event improper.
”The Nativity scene and the story of the birth of Jesus are, of course, well-recognized symbols of the Christian faith,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint, filed Wednesday. “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.”
The scene traditionally fills the final 15 minutes of a long program that features music of both a sacred and secular nature.
Last month the local school board responded to the FFRF threat of a lawsuit by saying, in part, “As always, if a student or parent finds objectionable any portion of the Spectacular, or any school assignment for that matter, that student is free to opt out of the performance or assignment. Many students have chosen to do so in the past. The Nativity Scene participation is purely voluntary and is rehearsed only after school hours. It provides historical context to the entire holiday season and is a small portion of a two hour long performance. The Spectacular also traditionally includes secular, holiday musical favorites, such as Jingle Bells, Let It Snow and Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. For more than 30 years, the Spectacular has been an important part of the Concord High School holiday experience. It will continue to be so.”
Interestingly, this lawsuit comes on the heels of another one lost by the FFRF in Franklin County, Indiana arguing about the illegality of nativity scenes on public property.
The Superintendent of Concord Community Schools in Elkhart, Indiana, John Trout, gave a rousing statement of support after a large public showing against the efforts of the FFRF to quell performance of a live nativity at an annual Christmas concert put on by a local high school. The event has a 30-year tradition.
“At the outset, let me state unequivocally that Concord Community Schools disagrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s assertion and demand that any school celebration occurring during the Christmas holiday season must be purely secular. That is not an accurate statement of the law. Decades ago, beloved music department chair, Joe Beickman began the Spectacular, modeling it on Radio City Music Hall’s annual performance, after the high school band attended a performance following the band’s participation in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. As always, if a stuent or parent finds objectionable any portion of the Spectacular, or any school assignment for that matter, that student is free to opt out of the performance or assignment. Many students have chosen to do so in the past. The Nativity Scene participation is purely voluntary and is rehearsed only after school hours. It provides historical context to the entire holiday season and is a small portion of a two hour long performance. The Spectacular also traditionally includes secular, holiday musical favorites, such as Jingle Bells, Let It Snow and Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. For more than 30 years, the Spectacular has been an important part of the Concord High School holiday experience. It will continue to be so.
Concord Schools possesses well-established processes that allow anyone who is concerned about a course, textbook or educator to address that concern with school leadership. Concord Schools will not engage in a public media fight when outside organizations choose to contact media outlets, presumably for ulterior motives, instead of following those established procedures. To become involved in such a frenzy would not benefit our students in any fashion.”
Local sources indicate that hundred of people and several news stations were at the event held tonight.
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.
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.