After a federal judge told staff at Concord High School that their annual "live nativity" display was unconstitutional, the Elkhart, Indiana school tried to get around the judge's order by using mannequins instead of students (video below).
Now, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the ACLU want the judge to issue a summary judgment -- essentially, a ruling ordering the district to stop holding the live nativity scene altogether, instead of trying to get around the earlier ruling by using perceived loopholes.
U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio issued his initial ruling in early December of 2015, forcing the high school to scrap the live nativity portion of its "Christmas Spectacular." The community wasn't happy, and several people quoted in local media reports said they felt the court had gone too far and violated the spirit of the separation between church and state.
“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,” Concord High senior Janae Hall told WNDU.
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Staff and students at the school decided to circumvent the judge's ban on the nativity by using life-size mannequins instead of students, local newspaper The Elkhart Truth reported.
But that angered some parents and community members, including those who filed the original complaint with the help of the FFRF.
"Let’s give Concord a big hand in showing students that if you don’t agree with a court order, look for a loophole or just ignore it," Bill Grossman, a 1988 graduate of the high school, told the Elkhart Truth. "Rather than taking an opportunity to educate students on how our government functions, the Constitution and the separation of powers, we'll just ignore it."
The FFRF argues that using mannequins instead of students doesn't change the fact that the nativity exists "solely to promote Christianity during a school-sponsored performance in violation of the U.S. Constitution."
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"There is simply no support for the proposition that the constitutionality of a religious display or performance turns on a governmental entity's decision to employ live bodies," the FFRF wrote in its motion before the court.
The FFRF said its staff have also received threats by people angered by the organization's push to have the nativity performance banned.
"Generations in Elkhart have been misled by their school system to believe that it's OK for public schools to promote Christianity," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, the FFRF's co-president. "The death threats against our plaintiffs and attorney and the community hostility are a direct result."