The California Department of Education (CDE) agreed to drop two religious chants from its ethnic studies model curriculum (ESMC) during the weekend after parents, the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, and the Thomas More Society threatened to sue them over breaking state and federal constitution religious provisions.
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Recently, the CDE had added two chants, the Aztec “In Lak Ech” affirmation and the Yoruban “Ashe” affirmation to ESMC education. ne chant invokes Tezkatlipoka, a major Aztec god. Specifically, the chants would be for both “love, unity, and mutual respect” and “seeking the roots of truth, respectfully. Translated words would use Tezkatlipoka’s name before reciting “Seeking the truth of the roots, elders and us youth”.
While the CDE said they meant it as a way to show the culture and history of Mexico, parents quickly noted that since it invoked a religious deity, and using it in a chant or prayer, it stood at odds with the constitution. The Thomas More Society, who took up the case on behalf of the parents, specified in their lawsuit that it violated the California constitution’s Free Exercise Clause, which guarantees free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference, and the No Aid Clause, which prohibits government entities from endorsing or aiding any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose.
The CDE quickly backed away from the impending lawsuit, as did the State Board of Education. Both the Thomas More Society and parents were thrilled at the quick and decisive outcome.
“Today is a day of relief to know it took a multiracial coalition of individuals with different backgrounds and beliefs to move a mountain to challenge the state education apparatus,” said Jose Velazquez, one of the parents involved in the lawsuit, during the weekend in a statement. “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 Thomas More Society also spoke of the lawsuit’s outcome.
“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 Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna in a statement. “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 state agreed to do this while continuing to dispute any and all liability. 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.”
“Not since common core have parents really exploded over a broader education topic,” explained Sara Quinn, a Los Angeles lawyer who has represented parents in cases involving schools, to the Globe on Monday. “And in California, many thought it would go unquestioned. But it hasn’t. The latest lawsuit was blatant prayer in schools. It’s ok privately of course, but once it’s in the lesson plan, there are some, let’s say, serious questions about the competency of the people who devised those plans in the first place.”
“But parents and lawyers are catching all of this, and are genuinely upset at what is being taught. Along with COVID rules, it’s no wonder why private schools and home schools are becoming more and more popular.”
“Legally though, this is by far from the last challenge. There’s a lot at fault with ESMC, and we’ll keep plugging away at it. When they blatantly break the law, especially the constitution, we have an obligation to.”
More cases challenging the ESMC are expected to be filed in the near future.
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