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Students barred from Christmas play over scenes that include (gulp) Jesus. But there's a happy ending.


The superintendent 'pulled the plug' on students attending

(Image source: KTAL-TV video screenshot)

The Junior Service League told KTAL-TV that for years they've been putting on Christmas plays for students — but there was a wrinkle in this year's production of "How the Toys Saved Christmas" at Minden (Louisiana) High School.

Image source: KTAL-TV video screenshot

Because Webster Parish schools are under a federal court order to not promote religious activity during school functions, the station said the superintendent barred students from attending the "Toy Story"-inspired play because it includes scenes at the end featuring Jesus and Mary that demonstrate the meaning of Christmas.

"He told us if we couldn't change our play, the public school kids that were scheduled for today could not attend, so he pulled the plug on the kids coming today," Jennifer Powell, the play's director, told KTAL.

Image source: KTAL-TV video screenshot

What's the background?

The American Civil Liberties Union and Louisiana's ACLU almost one year ago challenged the Webster Parish district's "widespread practice of subjecting students to school-sponsored Christian prayer, proselytizing, and other religious rituals."

"Christian prayers are broadcast each morning over the PA system. School events, including athletic events, pep rallies, assemblies, and graduation ceremonies, incorporate official prayer, proselytizing, and other religious messages," according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. "Graduation ceremonies are frequently held in churches, and at times, they resemble church services that include Bible verses and prayers. School officials have also told students that evolution is a 'fairy tale' and implied that the Bible should be taken literally. The school has invited guests onto campus to preach to students."

The parent who raised the complaint said when her daughter stayed seated during morning prayer, other students ridiculed her, and when her parents stayed seated during graduation prayers, other parents hissed in disapproval, the suit added.

In the end, the district agreed in May to stop school-sponsored Christian prayer, proselytizing, and other religious rituals.

A workaround is found

Despite the superintendent's decree about students' attendance at "How the Toys Saved Christmas," KTAL said the district instead made the play a "community event" so parents could attend and pull their students from class to attend as well — and the station said the venue was packed Friday.

Image source: KTAL-TV video screenshot

"It was a blessing," parent Ashley Strickland told the station. "It was absolutely amazing to see the community come together and the support the play that stands for Jesus and Christmas and this time of the year."

Charity Simpson, another parent, agreed.

"I'm glad we were able to come together as a community and teach our kids the right reason for the season and not be scared of it," Simpson added to KTAL.

A tearful Powell told the station she was happy with the outcome and the turnout.

"I was humbled. I didn't expect to be what it is today," Powell said.

She added to KTAL that she's hopeful the district can issue permission slips to students for future performances.

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