The Freedom From Religion Foundation's lawsuit against the Chino Valley Unified School District board for regularly praying is entering a new stage.
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, the case will be heard before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif. FFRF is asking the appeals court to sustain a lower court ruling in its favor.
A district court in February 2016 granted summary judgment in favor of FFRF and its 22 plaintiffs, declaring the school board prayer an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. The decision also ruled that the school board policy and custom of reciting prayers, bible readings and proselytizing violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. After FFRF's victory, the school board voted to appeal the decision in a controversial 3-2 vote at a contentious meeting.
Chino Valley board meetings feature adults — board members, staff or clergy — nearly always Christian, delivering a prayer. For example, board member James Na told the audience at one meeting that "God appointed us to be here." Another board member, Andrew Cruz, told the audience at a meeting that the board had a goal: "And that one goal is under God, Jesus Christ." Cruz then read from the bible, Psalm 143:8.
The school board argues that it is similar to a legislative board, invoking two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that permit, under narrow circumstances, governmental prayer. But, FFRF contends in its brief, "The meetings of the school board can only be seen as school functions. Appellant school board members here are not a legislative body but rather a specific type of governing body tasked with one and only one duty: to govern all aspects of the public schools for the benefit and well-being of the children who are students within their district."
FFRF asserts that the board's conduct clearly violates the Constitution — and that the judicial system will concur.
"We hope the 9th Circuit will agree with our contentions," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "Public school boards can't engage in such outrageously religious behavior and get away with it."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a state/church watchdog with more than 29,000 nonreligious members and chapters all over the country, including over 3,500 and a chapter in California.
David Kaloyanides will be representing FFRF and the individual plaintiffs. The judges hearing the case will be Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Kim Wardlaw as well as Judge Wiley Daniel, a senior district judge of the U.S. District Court for Colorado.
FFRF v. Chino Valley Unified School District has Case No.: EDCV 14-2