ICC Note: A judge in California recently ordered that Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education cease their practice of holding prayer at the beginning of their board meetings. This decision follows a lawsuit filed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation in 2014 which alleged that the prayers violated the First Amendment. The US district judge agreed with the atheist group, stating that the prayer practice “constitute[s] unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.”
By Garrett Haley
02/22/016 United States (Christian News Network) – A California judge has ordered a public school district to stop allowing prayers at its board meetings and is demanding that the school district reimburse the atheist activist group that filed suit for all court costs and plaintiff fees.
In November of 2014, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed a 49-page lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education. As previously reported, the FFRF routinely opposes public displays of Christianity, including prayers by a high school football coach, a public Ten Commandments monument, cross decals on police officer vehicles, and a poster in a county clerk’s office promoting biblical marriage.
FFRF’s most recent efforts against the five-member Chino school board stem from the board’s practice of opening meetings with invocations. These prayers, the atheists argued in court, are a violation of the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
“The Chino Valley School Board begins each meeting with a prayer,” they state in their lawsuit. “Indeed the meetings resemble a church service more than a school board meeting, complete with Bible readings by the board members, Bible quotations by board members, and other statements by board members promoting the Christian religion.”
The FFRF argued that the “blatantly religious” school board prayers violated both the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. In a letter to the board of education, one of the FFRF’s attorneys described the invocations at “unnecessary, inappropriate, and divisive.”
The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a non-profit organization committed to defending religious freedom, stood with the Chino school board and defended the prayers in court. PJI President Brad Dacus said “some of the board members are very committed to their faith” and argued that their religious freedoms were protected by law.