Thursday, September 15, 2016

Court Upholds Modified Version of School's Annual Christmas Production

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Concord Community Schools, (ND IN, Sept. 14, 2016), an Indiana federal district court upheld against an Establishment Clause attack a modified version of the annual Christmas Spectacular put on by an Indiana high school. The court had previously issued a preliminary injunction against the 2014 and proposed 2015 versions that included a live Nativity Scene. (See prior posting.) The court now ordered the parties to submit briefs as to whether claims regarding those versions are now moot, and if they are not, what remedies are appropriate. The court then concluded that the version of the Christmas Spectacular actually performed in 2015 after the issuance of the preliminary injunction-- a version that modifies the nativity scene and adds Chanukah and Kwanzaa elements-- does not violate any of the Establishment Clause tests.  The court said in part:
At bottom, the endorsement test involves a holistic, qualitative assessment of the totality of the circumstances of a given display. Here, based on the circumstances and presentation of the show as a whole, and the way in which an objective, reasonable observer would likely perceive it, the Court finds that the Christmas Spectacular that was actually performed in 2015 did not convey a message of endorsement of religion.
An FFRF press release, which contains links to prior pleadings in the case, discusses yesterday's decision.