An Elkhart high school Christmas concert will have to scrap part of its performance following a court ruling.
U-s district court judge Jon Deguilio granted the Freedom From Religion Foundation a preliminary injunction.
That means Concord High School is not allowed to portray a live Nativity scene in its Christmas Spectacular, which opens in less than two weeks.
Parents and students say they're shocked and saddened by the decision.
“We've been to several performances in the past and it's extraordinary,” parent Brenda Bertha said.
“There, I imagine, are seniors, who were really looking forward to this. Senior year, playing the songs for the nativity scene and now they can't. That's their last chance,” Concord senior Janae Hall said.
A chance that Concord students and parents argue was taken away in the latest ruling in a lawsuit seeking to remove a live Nativity scene from the school's upcoming Christmas Spectacular.
“Disappointed to see Christ taken out of Christmas. Truly, that's the reason why we celebrate it,” Bertha said.
The lawsuit was filed in October by a Concord student and his father, along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. On Wednesday, a U.S. District Court judge granted an injunction, which means the school cannot portray the Nativity. The foundation's co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor says, "The decision is a win for those who say there can't be freedom of religious belief without freedom from religion in public schools."
“I find it very odd, because you don't have to go, and you don't have to be a part of it if you don't want to be a part of it,” Hall said.
Concord School superintendent John Trout would not speak on camera about the issue, but issued a statement, saying he's disappointed by the court's decision. And that Concord's music department is making changes to remove the live Nativity from the Christmas Spectacular, which is set to open Friday, December 11th.
“The entire second half was the nativity scene. So, I don't know what they're going to do, really,” Bertha said.
A preliminary injunction is not the final word in the lawsuit.
Today's decision simply continues the status quo until a judge makes a final ruling.
Superintendent Trout says he's looking into whether or not to appeal the ruling.
He could make a decision before the end of the week, however with the show beginning on Dec. 11th, it's unlikely that would do anything to reverse the ruling.
Concord High School will not be permitted to organize, rehearse or present a live Nativity scene during its 2015 Christmas Spectacular, according to The Elkhart Truth.
U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit against Concord Community Schools.
A hearing has been scheduled for January, but this year's Christmas Spectacular is set to run later this month.
Until the judge can make a final decision in the case, he has ruled that the live Nativity scene must be removed from the program.
In the beginning of November, the school corporation announced that it would include the live Nativity scene in addition to covering the history of Hanukkah and Kwanza.
According to an earlier article from The Elkhart Truth, an attorney for Concord Community Schools believed at the time that it was a legal compromise.
Earlier this year, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a lawsuit against the school district on behalf of a Concord student and his father, saying that Concord High School's live Nativity scene illegally endorses religion.
“It is illegal for a public school to endorse religion to students by organizing a religious performance, such as acting out the exclusively Christian legend of Jesus’s birth,” the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated. “The performance has a clearly devotional message and thus would be appropriate in a church setting, but not in a public school.”
Concord Community Schools' attorney Thomas Wheeler argued that the lawsuit was based on the 2014 Christmas Spectacular and that the 2015 show would be substantially different.
“The 2015 ’Spirit of the Season’ portion of the Christmas Spectacular recognizes the three major holidays in December, Chanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas, with a brief historical perspective through narration by a student and music and symbols from each tradition,” explained Scott Spradling, Concord’s director of music.
The school district argued that a live Nativity scene on school grounds isn't necessarily unconstitutional, but rather that it depends on the context.
FFRF, ACLU win injunction against Indiana school’s live nativity
From the Freedom From Religion Foundation
Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU of Indiana on behalf of a family in Elkhart, Indiana, this year's Concord Community School's holiday concert will not include an overt endorsement of Christianity.
U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio today issued an order prohibiting Concord Community Schools from performing a live nativity scene in its 2015 Christmas Spectacular holiday concert. For decades, the school district had students perform a 20-minute live nativity enactment, complete with religious music and a faculty member narrating the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.
Because the live nativity celebrates a religious message, which a government entity like Concord cannot endorse, DeGuilio ruled, "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."
"A live nativity is a shocking violation to encounter in a public school, which has no business directing students to engage in devotional, sectarian performances," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "This decision is a win for everyone who recognizes that there can be no freedom of religious belief without freedom from religion in government and in our public schools."
In his decision, DeGuilio noted that throughout the history of the Christmas Spectacular, "the nativity scene is emphasized in a manner unlike any other aspect of the show" and that it "conveys solemnity and reverence, as if the audience is being asked to venerate the nativity, not simply acknowledge or appreciate its place in the winter holiday season."
"Holiday celebrations that proselytize students are inappropriate in public schools," said Heather L. Weaver, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney. "Today's ruling makes that clear and ensures that all students and families, regardless of faith or belief, will feel welcome at Concord High's winter concert."
"The court's ruling relates to our joint motion for a preliminary injunction, so it applies only to the 2015 Christmas Spectacular," noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. "However, the court has strongly suggested that the nativity scene is unconstitutional, which has significant implications for the case as a whole, challenging all future performances."
For now, the parties will continue to prepare for an eventual trial on the merits while the Concord performing arts department prepares for a crèche-less holiday concert.