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Public School Defends Posting Nativity Scene Despite Potential Church-State Challenges

Faith

"...we offended a lot more people by taking it down than leaving it up..."

A superintendent at Green County Tech Primary School in Paragould, Arkansas, is taking a strong stance in support of a Nativity scene at an elementary school in his district -- a scene that has been posted for 20 years without incident.

After ordering the bulletin board be taken down, Superintendent Jerry Noble has decided to allow it once again.

The traditional Nativity scene includes the words, "Happy Birthday, Jesus," which Noble, a Christian, is adamantly defending. After receiving two complaints this year, the superintendent initially consulted with lawyers and decided to remove the Nativity. But -- the community's reaction led to a change of heart.

“Enough is enough,” Noble explains. “It’s His birthday. We celebrate Jesus’ birthday. One person should not be offended by that. We don’t leave it up all year. We’re not promoting religion. It’s not an effort to convert anybody.”

He explains that he initially removed the Nativity, because he didn't want to put the school district at risk. “I could not take it upon myself to get the school in a legal entanglement over separation of church and state because we would have to use tax dollars to fight it and that’s not my job to do that," he explained. But once he removed the display, the community criticized the decision.

Then, a group came forward to support the school if and when a legal challenge against the display was waged. So, Noble decided to put the board up again. “To be honest with you, we offended a lot more people by taking it down than leaving it up,” he said.

The Paragould Daily Press has more about the legal issues potentially facing the district:

...the school district’s attorney, Donn Mixon, who advised him to have the decoration removed. Mixon admitted he was not given all of the details surrounding the controversy and was simply asked whether a nativity scene displayed in a public school was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [...]

“I gave the opinion that yes I believe, based upon what I was told about it, that if challenged, it could well violate the First Amendment,” Mixon said. “Prayer at graduation, the posting of the Ten Commandments, those are all issues that have been litigated under that establishment clause. The courts have generally held that if public schools do those types of things... that can violate the Establishment Clause.”

The district's pro-Nativity stance is already frustrating those opposed to Noble's actions. The American Civil Liberties Union Arkansas (ACLU) has already said that the school must abide by the Constitution. Rita Sklar, the state's ACLU director, has come out strong, saying that it's sad to see Noble and others not respecting the First Amendment. Fox News Radio has more about the controversy:

The Nativity scene was erected by Kay Williams, a counselor at the primary school. She’s been doing it for more than 20 years without any hint of controversy.

“We do live in the Bible Belt,” Williams told the Paragould Daily Press. “One thing that really disturbed most of [the supporters] was we hear about things like this all the time in other parts of the country. But, this is kind of a first for the Bible Belt, here in Arkansas.”

Noble says that Christians have been silent for too long.

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