The Hoosier State has dealt with its fair share of free speech and conscience rights issues in recent days. But a new federal court ruling has created yet another barrier for those wishing to exercise those freedoms.
Last week, federal judge Jon E. DeGuilio ruled against Concord High School – and in favor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation – after several anonymous plaintiffs complained about the content of a Christmas production held at the Elkhart high school.
Students at the school put on a Christmas production every year to commemorate the season, inviting students, parents, and others in the community to attend. The production, as it does every year, included a depiction of the historical event of the birth of Jesus – what most commonly refer to as the nativity scene.
The production went, by all appearances, smoothly – until a lawsuit was filed against the school.
Despite the fact that no students were forced to participate in the play, nor audience members forced to attend it, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against the school claiming that, by hosting the nativity scene, it had violated the separation of church and state and had effectively forced the message of Christianity onto others.
Of course, the nature of the lawsuit is troubling because it illustrates a misunderstanding of the concept of religious freedom; however, the repercussions of Judge DeGuilio’s ruling will no doubt inflict serious damage on the First Amendment itself.
The ruling doesn’t just bar Concord High School from bringing the nativity scene back to the stage at Christmas – it also blocks any public school from sharing the nativity scene on its own stage and concludes that schools may open themselves up to legal judgment if they violate the ruling.
Translation: schools that violate the ruling may be required to pay “damages” to those offended by the nativity scene.
In this case, Judge DeGuilio’s penalties were relatively light – the school was required to pay just $10 in damages; however, the precedent that this ruling sets for students wishing to exercise their rights to religious expression is far more expensive.
While efforts to retain good federal judges are ongoing, IFI is working alongside Indiana legislators to protect religious freedom for students right now.
HB 1024, a bipartisan effort to protect students’ religious freedom, has passed the Indiana House and is currently under consideration in the Indiana Senate. If passed, it would prevent the government from discriminating against students within public schools because of the student's faith. It’s exactly what we need to counter the all-out assault on faith in our schools.
Together, we’re must continue the fight to ensure that every student can live and learn according to their deeply-held values – even in public schools. Will you join us on this effort?