SOUTH BEND — A U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday ruled that Concord High School's Christmas program last year did not violate Constitutional prohibitions against the endorsement of religion by public entities.
It's a step forward in the controversial case filed on behalf of a Concord High School student against Concord Community Schools stemming from the high school's annual Christmas program. But it doesn't completely resolve the matter.
U.S. District Court Judge Jon DeGuilio of South Bend found that the 2015 program, modified from the 2014 show, "bore little resemblance to the religious presentations of previous years" and, thus, did not violate the Establishment Clause. That's the provision of the First Amendment prohibiting governmental entities or schools from endorsing religion.
DeGuilio didn't rule on claims related to the 2014 program or another proposed version of the show for 2015. Rather, he called for "supplemental briefing as to whether those claims remain live, and as to what remedy may be appropriate."
The Fredom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union – representing a Concord High School student, his father and two other parents – filed suit against Concord schools last October, charging that the high school's annual Christmas Spectacular endorses Christianity and, thus, violates the U.S. Constitution.
In Wednesday's decision, DeGuilio noted the inclusion in the 2015 program of descriptions of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa as well as Christmas, read by students. Those additions aimed "to observe holidays celebrated by different cultures and religions, and thus conveyed a message of inclusion and education rather than endorsing the religious or cultural content of any of the performances," DeGuilio wrote.
One of the most notable differences in the 2015 performance was use of mannequins to depict the Nativity scene, not live performers. Concord schools lawyers had argued that those and other changes addressed the suing plaintiffs' concerns and that the program should be able to continue as revamped.
Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack