Monday, May 2, 2016

Mannequin Mayhem

In Elkhart, Indiana there has been a longstanding tradition for over 50 years where students of Concord High School partake in an annual Christmas Spectacular. The performance features students singing, dancing, and playing musical instruments to Christmas songs as well as performing songs to celebrate Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. The grand finale for the show has traditionally been a live Nativity scene with Concord High School students as the featured performers. However, this past year a lawsuit was filed against the Concord Community Schools claiming that the Christmas Spectacular performance was an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. U.S. District Judge Jon Deguilio deemed the performance to be overtly religious and unconstitutional, thus specifically banning the live performance of the Nativity scene featuring student actors. Deguilio explained that the inclusion of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa songs within the performance does not allow for the Nativity scene to be performed. The Nativity scene is the only religious spectacle within the entire performance that is performed by student actors.
Despite the court’s ruling, the community of Concord felt that the holiday performance must go on. Citizens of the town claimed the performance has been such a staple tradition within the town and it would be a shame to let it end so abruptly. The first half of the performance carried on as always with Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah songs being sung and performed. When it came to the finale of the show, the Nativity scene, instead of student actors performing the scene, the school used mannequins to portray the scene. The school felt that by removing student involvement within the scene, there should be no legal issue with the Nativity scene being depicted. However, the replacement of students with mannequins was not received well by everyone. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Indiana filed complaints against the school district this past Friday. They claim that the use of mannequins does not change the legality of the situation – the presence of a Nativity scene still violates the establishment clause. Does the removal of student actors from within the Nativity scene still endorse religion and violate the establishment clause?

I believe that yes, the presence of a Nativity scene within a school endorsed performance, whether it be with student actors or mannequins, is still deemed to be unconstitutional. The fact that the entire performance is school run and endorsed by the school means that there should not be a Nativity scene present within the performance. The school district believes that they are equally representing different religions by allowing for Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah songs to all be sung during the performance. However, with the Nativity scene being the “grand finale” and taking up the entire second half of the show, it is clear that Christianity is being favored and placed in higher importance compared to the other religions represented, or not represented, within the performance.  


Liz S. said...

I agree that while different religious holidays are being represented there is a clear preference for Christianity since the nativity scene takes up half of the entire show. The fact that the nativity was done with mannequins does not make a difference in my mind. While it is good that students are no longer having a direct involvement in acting out the nativity, the school as a whole is certainly endorsing it and no doubt student effort went into creating the scene. Because students have a huge role in this christmas show and because christianity is certainly preferred, the show as it is does not seem constitutional.

Maddie G said...

I agree that removing the students from the play shouldn't make a difference in terms of the constitutionality of the nativity scene. The Court has ruled that nativity scenes can be construed as establishments of religion before, even when they're made up of entirely mannequins, so I don't see how the school can argue that replacing the students with mannequins changes anything. I think that even through the play uses elements of multiple religions, basing the entire second half of the show on the nativity scene is an establishment of religion and an endorsement of Christianity, specifically.

Sarah A said...

I agree that in this case the nativity scene does in fact qualify as an endorsement of religion. While in Lynch v. Donnelly the Creche was part of a large display of Christmas and winter displays. However, in this case, the the nativity scene is clearly highlighted and marked as more special part of the performance. Even "history" cannot justify this.

Sara G. said...

I feel that removing the students from the nativity scene does nothing to make the scene more constitutional. If the problem was that the nativity scene was taking up too much time then it could be reduced, but there is nothing unconstitutional about having students participate in it. If the school allows other religious holiday displays during the show they have to allow the nativity scene and I feel like whether it involves voluntary participants or not shouldn't make any difference. It could be argued that having any religious holiday displays constitutes as an establishment but the school has decided to take an accommodationist approach and allow other displays.