- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2019

A holiday tradition an Oklahoma public school won’t be happening this year in response to legal threats by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Chisholm Elementary blinked in a showdown with the Wisconsin-based nonprofit group, which claimed in October that nativity portions of its play are “illegal.” 

The nativity scenes have been pulled for the kids’ 2019 show, Breitbart reported Wednesday.

“Please note that including a live nativity performance in a school’s holiday concert remains illegal even if participation in the nativity scene is ‘voluntary,’ ” FFRF’s legal team wrote to Edmond Public Schools in Oklahoma City.

“We understand that Chisholm students who participate in the nativity play various roles, including Mary and Joseph, etc.,” Christopher Line, staff attorney at the FFRF added. “While a public school can hold holiday concerts, religious performances and instruction that emphasize the religious aspects of a holiday are prohibited. … A live nativity performance celebrating the story of Jesus’s birth is precisely the sort of religious endorsement prohibited by the Establishment Clause.”

Liberty Counsel, a legal nonprofit dedicated to protecting Christian values, responded Tuesday.

“Let us first start with the most inherently religious aspect of the show: the nativity scene,” the group wrote. “We are not prepared to say that a nativity scene in a school performance automatically constitutes an Establishment Clause violation. See Doe v. Wilson Cnty. Sch. Sys., 564 F.Supp.2d 766, 800–01 (M.D. Tenn. 2008) (finding a two-minute nativity scene in a 22-minute program acceptable because it ‘presented in a prudent, unbiased, and objective manner’ ‘the traditional historical, cultural, and religious meaning of the holiday in America’). Each show must be assessed within its own context.”

Mat Staver, chairman of Liberty Counsel, added that FFRF “does not seem to know what the Constitution means.”

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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