After a live Nativity scene planned for a school-based Christmas show was banned in a northern Indiana school district by a judge's ruling on Dec. 2, school representatives used mannequins instead of student actors for concerts this weekend. Sam Grover, staff attorney of Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, said the district's officials appear to be "thumbing their noses" at the spirit of the preliminary ruling.
For decades, Concord Community Schools' district in Elkhart, Ind., had students perform a 20-minute live nativity enactment, including religious music and a faculty member narrating the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. But that wasn't supposed to happen at the 2015 Christmas Spectacular holiday concert.
U.S. District Judge Jon DeGuilio issued a preliminary injunction to stop this year's live scene. He ruled "the living Nativity scene impermissibly conveys an endorsement of religion and thus runs afoul of the Establishment Clause."
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.
Grover said he believes the district's use of mannequins instead of student actors had many of the same constitutional flaws.
School officials say the injunction only applied to a live scene, and they complied with the judge's order. School Superintendent John Trout said earlier the school would abide by the ruling but plans to appeal it, as reported in South Bend Tribune.
Trout said earlier this month in a news release the preliminary injunction only applies to this year's show and a final decision about future years' performances will not come until any appeals are resolved.
"We look forward to our high school music department's upcoming Christmas Spectacular performance, albeit in a slightly modified form," Trout had stated in the release.
Grover stated the foundation, along with the ACLU of Indiana, had filed the original lawsuit on behalf of a family from Elkhart who did not want an overt endorsement of Christianity in the concert.