U.S. judge bans portrayal of live Nativity scene in Indiana public high school, saying it violates Establishment Clause

Actors, portraying Joseph (R), Mary (C) with baby Jesus, and two of the three wise men, perform during the Faith and Action organisation's fifth annual live Nativity Scene procession in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Dec. 11, 2014.Reuters

A U.S. judge has banned the portrayal of a live Nativity scene in a public high school in Indiana as part of its Christmas show this year on the ground that it "conveys a message of endorsement of religion, or that a particular religious belief is favoured or preferred."

According to USA Today, U.S. District Judge Jon E. Deguilio issued a ruling last week against the traditional Christmas performance made by Concord Community Schools.

"Accordingly, the court finds that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits on their claim that the inclusion of the living Nativity scene in the show, as currently proposed, violates the Establishment Clause," the judge wrote.

The suit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Indiana and Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), two atheist organisations that champion the separation of church and state. The suit was filed after a student-participant in the performing arts programme and his father complained about the Nativity scene.

"A live Nativity is a shocking violation to encounter in a public school, which has no business directing students to engage in devotional, sectarian performances," said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor in a statement. "This decision is a win for everyone who recognises that there can be no freedom of religious belief without freedom from religion in government and in our public schools."

ACLU attorney Heather Weaver agreed with Gaylor's statement, adding that because of the recent court ruling, all students, regardless of religion, will now feel welcome at the show. "Holiday celebrations that proselytise students are inappropriate in public schools," Weaver said.

However, Concord Community Schools superintendent John Trout was disheartened by the decision. "The Concord High School music department is working overtime to insure that this year's Christmas Spectacular performance complies with the Court's order," Trout said.