Friday, March 23, 2018

7th Circuit: School's Christmas Pageant Does Not Violate Establishment Clause

In Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Concord Community Schools, (7th Cir., March 21, 2018), the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a revised version of an annual Christmas Spectacular put on by an Elkhart, Indiana high school does not violate the Establishment Clause.  The court describes the revised pageant's challenged second half:
the show spends about four and a half minutes each explaining and performing a song to represent Hanukkah and another for Kwanzaa. Images are projected onto large screens to accompany both songs. For the remaining 20 minutes, students perform numerous Christmas songs that are more religious in nature (e.g., “Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head,” “O Holy Night”). During one of the songs, a nativity scene appears on stage for two minutes. The manger uses mannequins, not student actors. There are no New Testament readings.
The court explained its conclusion as follows, in part:
It is worth emphasizing that no one factor alone—the secular first half, the nativity’s lack of prominence, the inclusion of other holidays—leads us to conclude that the 2015 Spectacular passes muster under the endorsement test. Overall, the 2015 performance in its current form would not cause a reasonable observer to believe that Concord is signing off on a particular religious message....
Although the matter is not open‐and‐shut, we see no reason to reverse the district court’s conclusion on summary judgment that the 2015 show did not pressure individuals to support any religious beliefs.
Education Week reports on the decision.