Religion in Public Schools

Elkhart County School's 2015 'Christmas Spectacular' Live Nativity Scene Ruled an Endorsement of Religion

A child and his father, along with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the ACLU, won a preliminary injunction on December 2, 2015 to stop Concord Community Schools in Elkhart County from putting on a live nativity scene as part of its 2015 "Christmas Spectacular."

Public school curriculum must always serve a secular educational purpose.

The ruling, by Judge John DeGuilio of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, said the live nativity scene as planned by the public school for its annual event violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by conveying an endorsement of religion.

In his decision, the Judge said, "A reasonable observer could perceive that the nativity scene is actually onstage for the religious message it conveys instead of as an outlet for the performing talents of the students or for the pedagogical value of its performance."

"The nativity scene is emphasized in a manner unlike any other aspect of the show," Judge DeGuilio added, noting the "striking disparity" between the nativity scene and other portions of the show. While he also noted that "It is not per se impermissible to portray a live nativity scene with student performers, so long as the totality of the circumstances of such a performance do not convey an endorsement of religion," he also cited as a factor in his ruling that "case law has evinced special concern with the receptivity of schoolchildren to endorsed religious messages."

What we can learn from this case

Some guidelines on religion in public schools:

Public school curriculum must always serve a secular educational purpose. Religion can be taught in the public schools setting if the following requirements are met:

Click here to download a copy of the lawsuit.
Click here to download a copy of the decision.