Aztec Prayers Ousted from California Public Schools Curriculum

California public schools will no longer be teaching students Aztec and Yoruba prayers as part of the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. Thomas More Society attorneys obtained a settlement on January 13, 2022, in a lawsuit brought by parents and the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, against the State of California, its Board of Education, and Department of Education.

“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 settlement agreement represents a significant triumph for freedom and equality. The lawsuit sought the removal of the prayer components from the state’s Board of Education approved curriculum, challenging their inclusion, as a violation of the California Constitution. The state’s Free Exercise Clause guarantees “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference,” and No Aid Clause prohibits any government entity from granting anything that endorses or aids “any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose.”

As a result of the settlement, that the California Department of Education will promptly remove prayers (also labeled as chants or affirmations) from the Aztec and Yoruba (or Ashe) religions from the state-approved curriculum and will issue a public notice of such to all California school districts, charter schools and county offices of education. The department, along with the State Board of Education, also agreed not to encourage the use of the two challenged chants in California public schools.

“The state agreed to do this while continuing to dispute any and all liability,” explained Jonna. “Nonetheless, we’re pleased that the prayers have been officially removed from the curriculum. Our team of attorneys will aggressively pursue civil litigation against any local school district that violates the Constitution and incorporates these Aztec prayers in class – particularly now that the state has excised them from the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.”

The controversial curriculum, deeply rooted in Critical Race Theory and critical pedagogy, relies on viewing culture with a race-based lens and an oppressor-victim dichotomy. According to Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, the Aztec and Ashe prayer components component are two particularly egregious examples, demonstrating the politicized championing of critical consciousness, social justice, transformative resistance, liberation and anti-colonial movements in the state-sanctioned teachings of ethnic studies.

“We are encouraged by this important, hard-fought victory,” announced Frank Xu, President of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, who joined parents in the lawsuit, “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 re-focus on true education.”

“Today is a day of relief,” declare Jose Velazquez, one of the parents who filed suit against the state. “To know it took a multi-racial coalition of individuals with different backgrounds and beliefs to move a mountain to challenge the state education apparatus…Both the ‘In Lak Ech’ and the ‘Ashe’ affirmations repetitively invoke religious gods or deities, which should be deleted from any public education curricula because our education system is not above the law. It is up to courageous parents, citizens, and organizations to stand up for what’s right.”

Read the January 13, 2022, Settlement Agreement entered into by and between the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the State of California, Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, Eric Gonzales, Steve Houbeck, and Jose Velazquez, here.

Read about the Thomas More Society’s work on the original lawsuit, filed September 3, 2021, in Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, et al. v. State of California, et al. here.

SOURCE Thomas More Society