FFRF Sues Chino Valley, California School Board

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit against the Chino Valley School District in California, alleging a wide range of First Amendment violations involving board members taking every opportunity they can to proselytize those in attendance, including students.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a prominent national state/church watchdog., filed a federal lawsuit yesterday in the Central District of California, Eastern Division, against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, whose meetings “resemble a church service more than a school board meeting,” FFRF contends.

FFRF, based in Madison, Wis., has more than 21,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including more than 3,360 in Caifornia.

School board meetings open with a prayer, and often include bible readings and proselytizing by board members. Board President James Na injects Christianity into many of his official statements, FFRF’s legal complaint notes. At one typical meeting, Na “urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him,” and closed with a reading of Psalm 143.

Students often attend the meetings to receive awards, speak about issues affecting their schools, attend disciplinary hearings and do performances. Student attendance is mandatory in some instances, and a student representative is a member of the board.

Courts have consistently held that organized prayer in the public schools is unconstitutional, the complaint charges. Two federal appellate courts, the Third and Sixth Circuits, have specifically held school board prayer unconstitutional.

Joining the Freedom From Religion Foundation as plaintiffs are a district student, Doe 1, and parents Does 2 and 3, as well as a district employee, Doe 4. Additional students, families, and employees in the district who are interested in joining as anonymous plaintiffs should contact FFRF.

The complaint, which you can read here, provides a great deal of detail on these violations.

Just prior to adjournment, Board members are given time for “Communications.” Board members use this time to discuss their individual work within CVUSD. For instance, on January 16, 2014, Ms. Orozco wished the Student Representative a belated happy birthday; Andrew Cruz spoke about a parent who donated paper to a school and his school visits; Ms. Hernandez-Blair mentioned that she was wearing Cortez Elementary School spirit wear and thanked Chino High School staff for helping her put on an event; Mr. Na invited the Cal Aero Preserve Academy a CVUSD school to give a technology presentation to the Board.

At that same meeting, CVUSD Board of Education President James Na said “our lives begin in the hospital and end in the church, and urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find Him.” Mr. Cruz “closed by reading Psalm 143.”

Mr. Na and Mr. Cruz typically do this during the Communications part. Mr. Cruz closes with a Bible reading. For instance, the minutes show that Mr. Cruz read:

a. Psalm 143:8 Feb. 6, 2014

b. 2 Corinthians Feb. 20, 2014

c. Galatians 16 [sic] March 6, 2014

d. Galatians 2 March 20, 2014

e. Romans 15:62 May 1, 2014

f. Galatians 5:22-23 May 15, 2014

Mr. Cruz “read a prayer regarding being a sinner and about forgiveness.” See April 17, 2014 minutes.

Mr. Na often injects religion into his comments. Mr. Na does this to the point of proselytizing and discussing theology. For instance, Mr. Na:

a. “congratulated Calvary Chapel Solid Rock for their work on the National Day of Prayer at Chino Hills city hall, and said that guest pastor Larry Powers from Calvary Chapel Golden Springs gave a great message; spoke about being created in God’s image.” See May 1, 2014 minutes.

b. mentioned a tragic news story “and said this tells us how much we need God in today’s society; thanked God for sending his son Jesus Christ so that our sins are forgiven and may have eternal life in heaven; and wished everyone a nice Easter.” See April 17, 2014 minutes.

c. “said we have a short time on this earth and that he wants misconceptions to be cleaned out, the cloud removed, and for God to give us wisdom.” See March 6, 2014 minutes.

d. “said that he as a Christian has hope with Jesus Christ as Savior.” See February 20, 2014 minutes.

e. “thanked God for sending His Son so that we could have eternal life … [and] thanked the students still present at the Board meeting at 10:31 p.m.” See December 12, 2013 minutes.

f. “said we have all different fingerprints and are all specially made by God.” See November 11, 2013 minutes…

James Na also reads from the Bible during Board meetings, including John 3:16, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” October 3, 2013.

And on and on like this. Some of the board members seem to think that they were elected to be ministers, not school officials.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John Pieret

    Just lifting their leg to mark their territory.

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    And many of these idiots will be re-elected.

  • whheydt

    One of the first things I check when there is a school board election is if any of the candidates are touting religous affiliations. Those that do are the first I cross off my list for potential votes.

  • eric

    Hopefully the school board has a competent lawyer, who will advise them to quit the shennanigans immediately so that this doesn’t cost the disrict additional time and money.

    …well, I can dream anyway.

  • John Pieret

    Hopefully the school board has a competent lawyer …

    Assuming they have insurance, the carrier’s lawyers will take one look at that complaint and advise the board to knock it off and will then start to negotiate with FFRF on a settlement. If the school board balks and gets one of those Christian “law firms,” like Liberty Counsel, the insurance company (probably) can disclaim coverage and then it will be the kids that suffer.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    Sounds like they need a satanist or pastafarian or two on the board.

  • http://dontlinkmebro F [i’m not here, i’m gone]

    This is also what they do so they don’t actually have to do anything else of consequence, or fill time just so it seems like a meeting was long enough that they are “doing something”.

  • whheydt

    Re: John Pieret @ #5…

    IIRC, in past cases, the school board’s normal lawyer would tell them to knock it off and settle. The insurance company would then decline to cover the expenses when they lost because they went against the advice of their regular lawyer.

    The results are the same as your scenario, but the path is a bit cleaner.

  • John Pieret

    whheydt:

    Actually, in many, if not most, cases both will happen. That is, the board’s own lawyer (assuming s/he is not part of the uber-religious majority) will advise them to knock it off when they are first contacted by the FFRF and try to find out what conditions the FFRF wants not to bring a suit. If the board ignores that advice, when a lawsuit is started and the insurance company is informed, it’s lawyers will tell them it is unconstitutional and will try to limit the damages by negotiating with the FFRF.