Staver: Atheist group lied to school over Nativity scene

Monday, December 16, 2019
 | 
Bob Kellogg, Billy Davis (OneNewsNow.com)

Nativity paintingChristmas wouldn’t be complete without atheists getting upset over the Nativity, this time at an Oklahoma public school that caved.

Edmonds Public Schools has dropped Joseph, Mary, and Baby Jesus from Chisholm Elementary School’s third grade Christmas program after atheist group Freedom from Religion Foundation sent a letter claiming the school is violating the Establishment Clause.

The Edmond Sun newspaper reports the live Nativity has been part of the school’s Christmas program for approximately three decades but has been “modified” -- dropped -- from the program after the FFRF complaint.

A school district spokesperson told the Sun that changes were made to this year’s Christmas program “to ensure the program’s content celebrates and respects the religious practices, customs, and traditions of the season while meeting the current legal standards.”

The so-called “War on Christmas” is often downright silly, such as lighting a “holiday” tree to appear more “diverse,” but the legal fight over displaying the Nativity is more complicated and is still being fought in the courts.   

Christmas tree ornamentThe website for the FFRF, for example, offers a 2,100-word legal opinion that tepidly admits the courts have been open to including the Nativity as part of a larger Christmas display. One such case is Lynch v. Donnelly, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed lower court decisions and found Baby Jesus does not violate the Establishment Clause if included among secular decorations on public school property.

A second similar ruling, in 1989, split the high court in a variety of ways over displays for Christmas and Hannukkah, with the justices even debating  whether Christmas trees violate the Establishment Clause.

Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel tells OneNewsNow he contacted Edmonds Public Schools via letter to explain their legal rights and to offer a pro bono defense.

Staver

In its own letter, FFRF nakedly threatened the school district with the news that it had sued an Indiana public school in 2015 over a Nativity scene, but Staver says what was left out of the threatening letter is that the courts ultimately ruled against the lawsuit.

FFRF was threatening Edmonds over its case, FFRF v Concord Community Schools, which ultimately concluded after a federal appeals court ruling with Concord High School being allowed to include the Nativity after the school watered down the event: it dropped New Testament readings, and added songs to celebrate Hannukah and Kwanzaa. 

The Indiana school district's voluntary changes to the decades-long show meant the Nativity "no longer stands out" and is no longer the "centerpiece" but is now part of a longer show, the court found, mirroring court opinions that have ruled in favor of public properties that include both Santa and Baby Jesus.   

"We are not prepared to say," the court ruling states, "that a nativity scene in a school performance automatically constitutes an Establishment Clause violation." 

"Frankly, they lied in their opinion letter,” Staver says of FFRF. "And it's based upon those lies and those threats that the superintendent decided, Well, if that's what the case said, we've got to stop this live nativity."

That sent a terrible message to the young students at Chisholm Elementary and to their outraged parents, he adds, and that message needs to be reversed.

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