California has settled litigation against its inclusion of prayers to Aztec and Yoruba gods that were approved in the state's ethnic studies "model curriculum" this spring.
The lawsuit alleged that children were expected to participate in these prayers or "face the social implications of declining to participate," a violation of their free exercise. The plaintiffs claim the California Constitution is stricter than the U.S. Constitution on separation of church and state.
The settlement requires California to remove the “In Lak Ech Affirmation” and “Ashe Affirmation” from the online ESMC and notify "all school districts, charter schools and county offices of education" that the prayers were deleted.
"It is contemplated that the notification will also convey" that ESMC content should not be used "as prayer, or any other form of religious act," which would violate the State Board of Education's "longstanding policy and guidance." The SBE and California Department of Education also agreed "not to encourage" the use of the prayers in schools.
The state continues to dispute that the prayers' inclusion violates the California Constitution's religion proscriptions.
The Thomas More Society represented Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, which filed the lawsuit. The state agreed to pay $100,000 to cover their legal fees.
The prayers are associated with Aztec human sacrifices, the public interest law firm's special counsel Paul Jonna said in a press release.
They "seek blessings from and the intercession of these demonic forces," and 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.’"
Jonna warned that the Thomas More Society will "aggressively pursue civil litigation against any local school district that violates the Constitution and incorporates these Aztec prayers in class."