On Jan. 13, the state of California, along with its Board of Education and Department of Education, settled a lawsuit with parents over a controversial ethnic studies program that required school children to pray to Aztec gods.
Although the settlement contains a provision in which the state maintains its innocence and denies any admission of guilt or evidence of liability, the California Department of Education did agree to promptly remove prayers—also labeled as chants or affirmations—from the Aztec and Yoruba religions from the state-approved curriculum. It also committed to issuing a public notice to all California school districts, charter schools and county offices of education informing them of the changes in the curriculum.
Going forward, the education department and the state school board said they would not encourage the use of the prayers in California public schools.
The Thomas More Society, who brought the suit on behalf of the parents, called the settlement a “significant triumph for freedom and equality.”
“We filed the lawsuit after we discovered that California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, a resource guide for local school districts, included prayer to Aztec gods—the same deities that were invoked when the Aztecs worshipped with human sacrifices,” said Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Thomas More Society special counsel. “The Aztec prayers at issue—which seek blessings from and the intercession of these demonic forces—were not being taught as poetry or history. Rather, the curriculum instructed students to chant the prayers for emotional nourishment after a ‘lesson that may be emotionally taxing or even when student engagement may appear to be low.’ The idea was to use them as prayers.”
The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), who joined the parents in the lawsuit, celebrated the settlement but cautioned that there is more to be done.
“We are encouraged by this important, hard-fought victory,” said Frank Xu, president of CFER. “Our state has simply gone too far in attempts to promote fringe ideologies and racial grievance policies, even those that disregard established constitutional principles. Endorsing religious chants in the state curriculum is one glaring example. To improve California public education, we need more people to stand up against preferential treatment programs and racial spoils. At both the state and local levels, we must work together to refocus on true education.”
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