Atheist activists successfully banned a live nativity display from an Indiana high school’s annual Christmas show after parents complained back in 2015 about the public school production — but the story has taken some fascinating twists and turns ever since.
Mainly, the nativity ban has actually rallied the community together and placed a heavier focus on the real meaning of the season.
But before we get into all that, let’s explore the history: The drama first unfolded when an unnamed dad and his high school son or daughter teamed up with other parents as well as the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit against Concord Community Schools over the presence of the nativity, Deseret News reported.
A judge ruled that the live nativity — which had been part of the school’s Christmas show for the past 50 years — had to be axed and the school complied. But then there was a twist. Instead of a display that featured students who played Mary, Joseph and the other traditional nativity characters, the school started using mannequins to depict the biblical scene
Watch the live nativity show from the 2014 show below around the 1:20:00 mark:
And the district then won in court last year when a federal judge ruled that this alternative display did not, in fact, violate the First Amendment; it has since been allowed to remain. Deseret News has more:
In addition to including mannequins to represent the Christmas story, the amended show also included Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs, leading Deguilio to rule this week that the 2015 show didn’t, in his view, violate the First Amendment.
While the judge didn’t rule on the earlier claims about the live nativity during the 2014 show, he said last year’s presentation “bore little resemblance to the religious presentations of previous years,” according to The Associated Press.
The FFRF responded to Deguilio’s ruling in a statement on Wednesday, expressing disappointment that Concord High School will be allowed to “employ mannequins in a Christian manger scene during a Christmas celebration.”
The mannequins were clearly a surprise, but this year there was yet another intriguing development. A local church decided to pick up the live nativity torch after atheists’ lawsuit, an effort that rallied the community together in some pretty cool ways.
St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Elkhart, Indiana, recently organized the display, which brought students together from across the city. The hope is that the nativity can help fill the void of what was lost in the legal battle, WSBT-TV reported.
“Knowing that the mannequins were replacing live students, and we wouldn’t see those sweet faces again, it left me heartbroken,” Jen Horoky, who launched the effort at St. Thomas, told the outlet.
So, Horoky and the church community went on a months-long quest to hand-sew costumes and build a set. Additionally, they reached out to students across the community to get them involved, according to WSBT.
In the end, nearly 40 students took part and the resulting enthusiasm, some say, points to broad support for the high school’s original live nativity.
“Now having it here definitely shows the community itself supports the live nativity and the reason for the season,” parent Eric Kleiman said of the effort.