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Atheists Prepare for Court Battle Against Public School Board Over Prayer and Bible Readings

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An atheist activist group is suing a California school district, claiming that its meetings generally "resemble a church service" and not a secular public gathering.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a federal lawsuit last week against Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education, alleging that meetings begin with prayer and sometimes include readings from the Bible — elements that the organization deemed First Amendment violations.

Among the charges, the atheist group claims that James Na, school board president, "urged everyone who does not know Jesus Christ to go and find him" at one meeting; he then reportedly read from Psalm 143, according to the complaint.

Andrew Cruz, another board member, is accused of reading the following verses at meetings, according to the complaint:

Freedom From Religion Foundation Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation argues that prayer has been found to be illegal in this capacity in the past, noting that the issue is especially problematic due to the fact that students, in some cases, are required to attend meetings.

"We believe Defendants’ conduct violates both the United States and California Constitutions and deprives Plaintiffs under both," the complaint reads. "Accordingly, Plaintiffs ask this Court to grant injunctive and declaratory relief, nominal damages to redress the plaintiffs’ injury, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs."

Unnamed parents and at least one district employee have joined the organization in waging the complaint.

According to the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the school board was repeatedly contacted in an effort to resolve the issue outside of court, but to no avail.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

A letter from the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education's attorney sent to the atheist group last year claims, though, that people of all faiths are invited to deliver invocations at meetings.

"Your organization objects to the District's long-standing practice of offering the opportunity to community leaders of all faiths to offer a non-proselytizing invocation at the beginning of each School Board meeting," read an October 2013 letter back to the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

TheBlaze will continue to cover this story as it unfolds.

(H/T: Friendly Atheist)

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Front page image via Shutterstock.com

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