The flashpoint in this Christmas controversy is the tiny town of Cottondale, located in the Florida panhandle.
For the past 30 years, a Nativity scene has been erected on the front lawn of Cottondale Elementary School. But now the annual holiday tradition has been abandoned – over fears that the Baby Jesus might somehow violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Principal Brenda Jones told television station WJHG the decision to keep Baby Jesus in the closet came after an official with the Dept. of Education dropped by to discuss the separation of church and state.
“The Dept. of Education came in and talked to us about the legalities of religion in the school systems and the separation of the two,” Jones told the television station.
In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the principal said, “We decided that we would just not put the Nativity scene out on campus.”
Officials with the Jackson County School Board did not return calls seeking comment.
But former board member Betty Duffee told the Jackson County Floridanthat she believes the principal had no choice.
“There are people in the community that are threatening to sue the school board (over separation of church and state issues), and it costs a tremendous amount of money to defend something you know you will lose,” she said.
“It’s not that we’re against it; it’s just that the federal law prohibits it,” she said.
Residents like Chuck Anderson are fuming over the decision – accusing the school system of trading Christ for Frosty.
“You’ll see Frosty the Snowman but you will not see anything related to Christ,” he said. “School employees are not allowed to say Merry Christmas. They’re not allowed to display anything that relates to Christ or religion in Christmas.”