In America, public education means schools that are maintained by the government solely to educate the children of a community as part of free public education; one that includes primary and secondary schools. In every school district in the country there is an elected board that is tasked with delivering the best possible education to students without proselytizing or praying to any religion’s deity according to the U.S. Constitution.
Despite this nation has had a “wall of separation” between church and state since the country’s founding in the First Amendment of the Constitution, evangelicals insist on “establishing religion” as part of public education. Last week, a federal judge had to remind hard-core Christians that their jobs as school board members does not include “proselytizing, praying, and pushing Jesus” during public meetings and told them to stop.
The latest, but not the last, judicial intervention to stop government-established religion targeted the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education (CVUSD) in California. The school board meetings had become veritable church services replete with member-led explicitly Christian prayers, Christian bible readings, personal testimonials, and revival-type calls to “come to Jesus.” Although appropriate for a proper traveling tent-meeting revival, a California U.S. District Court Judge informed the Christian evangelists posing as school board members that proselytizing and prayers were not suited for a government funded public school board meeting. Judge Jesus D. Bernal ruled the board members’ prayers and proselytizing were unconstitutional and ordered them to stop immediately.
One of the consequences that state and local taxpayers and students, but not the school district or board, will face is that the Chino Valley Unified School District is “on the hook for tens-of-thousands of dollars in legal fees.” This is especially painful when the district is already facing serious budget shortfalls likely due to the school board spending its time preaching, proselytizing, and reading bible scriptures instead of conducting business crucial to serve the students.
A legal advocate for the Freedom From Religion Foundation that joined angry parents in suing the school district estimated the school board’s unconstitutional establishment of religion will cost well over $50,000. It prompted one of the parents angry at the board’s promoting “their religious agenda” to complain that “the money spent on legal fees could have been much better spent on students in the classroom.” However, regard for the students, or the classrooms, was a very low priority for the school board whose extremely evangelical majority outnumbered the precious couple of board members intent on doing meaningful work on behalf of the students.
Parents whose students attended district schools had complained for a long while that the board, and its public meetings, had morphed into a religious outlet for members whose belief was their duty was conducting church services in lieu of board meetings and “promoting their own personal political and religious agenda.” The parents claimed the issue here was that not only did board members reject the idea of separation of church and state, they planned and used school board meetings as religious services “where everyone in the room was targeted for proselytization no matter the age.”
For example, the CVUSD Board of Education President James Na recently spent valuable meeting time preaching and ended the sermon by telling the audience that “their lives begin in the hospital and end in the church; everyone who does not know Jesus Christ go find Him.” Another aspiring preacher posing as a school board member, Andrew Cruz, followed the “go find Jesus” admonition by “reading Psalm 143 prior to closing the meeting with a Christian prayer.”
Neither the parents, district employees, or the FFRF wanted the matter to go to litigation. In fact, the FFRF repeatedly went out of its way to resolve these constitutional violations without costing the district legal fees. Over a year before joining parents and district employees filing the lawsuit, the FFRF began contacting the board asking it to stop scheduling prayers at its meetings. Not sure if the elected officials who swore an oath to follow the U.S. Constitution were aware of its contents, FFRF tried to inform the school board preachers that they were violating the Establishment Clause, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. and California Constitution.
They even informed the board members that there “were no valid educational purposes for Christian prayers, bible readings, proselytizing or personal testimonials” to no avail. The school board promptly refused the parents’ and FFRF’s request leaving them with no recourse but file suit. Although the Judge ordered the school board to cease making public meetings evangelical church services immediately, the district’s official response was that board would evaluate the stop preaching “order carefully and then decide on its next steps.” It will likely get uglier if the reaction to the lawsuit’s original filing is any indication.
Immediately on learning there was a lawsuit filed, board member Andrew Cruz said preaching and praying at a government meeting did not violate the Constitution and it led him to “express his dismay at the country’s leadership.” He then “encouraged everyone to examine American leadership because what our leaders are doing is eroding our rights and moving away from God. When you really think about it, a century ago they had people who were promoting freedom, our rights, and now things have changed dramatically.” Recently, Cruz went on a proper Ted Cruz (no relation) rant “trashing gay marriage, invoking the Confederate Flag, arguing that racism is over, and complaining about California’s laws protecting children.”
If any American thinks these religious maniacs serving in positions of government power, and violating the Constitution, are confined to the deep South bible belt they are sadly mistaken. These fanatics are in every state and every community and they have no intent to stop until they control every aspect of society as their Christian reconstruction and Dominionist Theology mission demands. And, like religious right extremists attacking women’s rights, the gay community, and the secular Constitution they enjoy the full political support of religious Republicans and financial support from the Koch brothers.
All the while, Democrats and liberals continue giving the theocrats a wide berth no matter the damage the religious fanatics are wreaking on society and especially on public schools. For now though, there is one public school district in California that is safe from theocrats thanks to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and concerned parents who prevailed with absolutely no assistance whatsoever from even one “Constitution-loving” politician.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.
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