A California school board has announced plans to appeal a judge's ruling last month that its members have been illegally proselytizing by reportedly sharing prayers and Bible scriptures during meetings.
The decision by the Chino Valley Unified School board came after a Feb. 18 ruling from U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal that found that "the resolution permitting religious prayer in board meetings, and the policy and custom of reciting prayers, Bible readings, and proseletyzing at board meetings, constitute unconstitutional government endorsements of religion in violation of plaintiffs' first amendment rights."
The case against the school board was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group, on behalf of 22 local residents who opposed these reported acts, the Christian Post reported.
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As TheBlaze previously reported, the Freedom From Religion Foundation began arguing in 2014 that the Chino Valley Unified School board meetings “resemble a church service” and not a secular public gathering.
The organization filed a lawsuit in November of that year, citing 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 Bible verses at meetings, according to the original complaint.
Now, the school board is pushing back against Bernal's ruling, voting 3-2 on Monday night to appeal the decision, selecting the Tyler & Bursch law firm to continue their case; they were previously represented by the conservative Pacific Justice Institute.
A crowd comprised of hundreds of locals who had assembled to support the members of the board cheered after the decision was announced, according to the Daily Bulletin.
Members of the Chino Valley Unified School board have consistently argued that their prayers unfold before official business and are, thus, permissible.
There's quite a bit at stake, as the Chino Valley Unified School board currently owes $197,405 to the Freedom From Religion Foundation to cover attorneys fees, the Christian Post reported.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation responded in a March 4 press release to the then-prospect of the school board appealing by warning that the nearly $200,000 cost "would steeply increase" and become a burden to California taxpayers.
"An appeal could take another two years, given the backlog in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the total fees and costs for a simple appeal would probably be $350,000," Freedom From Religion Foundation attorney Andrew Seidel said in a statement prior to the announcement of the appeal. "Depending on how much the district decides to appeal, the costs will go up from there."
He continued, "The board members shouldn't let their faith trump good sense."
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As TheBlaze has reported, prayer at public meetings continues to be a contentious subject, with the Supreme Court ruling in Greece vs. Galloway case that opening invocations do not violate the U.S. Constitution — even if invocations sometimes stress Christianity.
The 5-4 decision in Greece vs. Galloway offered a win to the town of Greece, New York, a suburb of Rochester that had been defending prayers routinely offered at its meetings. The ruling fell in line with a 1983 decision that dealt with a similar scenario in the Nebraska legislature.
The Supreme Court majority ruled in the Greece case that offering prayers is constitutional so long as government officials make an effort to be inclusive of all faiths, though CNN reported at the time that the ruling was specific to Greece and gave little guidance to other communities grappling with similar issues.
(H/T: Christian Post)
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