On January 13, 2022, attorneys representing Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and three San Diego parents, announced that the California Department of Education (CDE) will promptly remove two religious chants from the state-approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum following a settlement in a lawsuit against the State of California, the CDE and the State Board of Education (SBE). The CDE also will issue a public notice to all California school districts, charter schools and county offices of education, and along with the SBE, agreed not to encourage the use of the two challenged chants in California public schools.
Attorneys for the Thomas More Society filed a lawsuit challenging the Aztec and Ashe affirmations in the ESMC as violations of the California Constitution’s free exercise of religion and no government aid clauses. While agreeing to voluntarily remove the two affirmations, the CDE and co-defendants disputed liability.
“We filed the lawsuit after we discovered that California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC), a resource guide for local school districts, included prayers 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 ESMC 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.”
Jonna added that the parties were able to work out an informal resolution, with the SBE and CDE voluntarily agreeing to remove the prayers from the curriculum. “The state agreed to do this while continuing to dispute any and all liability,” he said. “Nonetheless, we’re pleased that the prayers have been officially removed from the ESMC. Our team of lawyers 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 ESMC.
“We are encouraged by this important, hard-fought victory. 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,” said Frank Xu, the president of CFER. “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!”
On March 18th, 2021, the California State Board of Education approved the final ESMC, a model that is still deeply rooted in Critical Race Theory (CRT) and critical pedagogy, with a race-based lens and an oppressor-victim dichotomy. The Aztec Prayer component, titled “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” and the Ashe Prayer 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.
“Today is a day of relief 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,” said Jose Velazquez, a parent co-plaintiff. “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!”
The settlement agreement represents a significant triumph for freedom and equality. The lawsuit sought the removal of the Aztec Prayer and the Ashe Prayer components from the ESMC. Notably, the Aztec Prayer repeatedly invokes, makes intercessory requests and gives thanks to five deities, namely Tezkatlipoka (God of the Night Sky), Quetzalkoatl (God of the Morning and Evening Star), Huitzilopochtli (God of Sun and War), Xipe Totek (God of Spring) and Hunab Ku (God of the Universe). The prayer has been found in actual classroom teaching in several individual school districts such as San Diego Unified School District and Salinas Union High School District.
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 [ https://thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Settlement-Agreement-all-signatures.pdf].
Read about the original complaint filed September 3, 2021, with the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego – Central Division by Thomas More Society attorneys, in Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, et al. v. State of California, et al. here [https://thomasmoresociety.org/californians-for-equal-rights-foundation-asks-court-for-tro-to-pull-aztec-prayers-from-public-schools/]