“We are encouraged by this important, hard-fought victory,” CFER President Frank Xu said in a media release on Jan. 14. “Our state has simply gone too far in attempts to promote fringe ideologies and racial grievance policies, even those that disregard established constitutional principles. Endorsing religious chants in the state curriculum is one glaring example.”
Xu urged more Californians to stand up against “preferential treatment programs and racial spoils” in public schools.
“At both the state and local levels, we must work together to refocus on true education,” he said.
The state also agreed to pay $100,000 toward the plaintiffs’ attorney fees to settle the case.
CFER filed the lawsuit (pdf) against the State of California, the California Department of Education (CDE), and the State Board of Education (SBE) on Sept. 3 last year, alleging that the Aztec and Ashe religious chants in the state-approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) violated the free exercise of religion and no government aid clauses in the California Constitution.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 101 last fall, making ethnic studies a requirement for high school graduation starting in the 2029–30 school year.
CDE has agreed to remove the chants from the state-mandated ethnic studies program.
As part of the settlement, CDE is also required to issue a public notice to all California school districts, charter schools, and county offices of education of the terms of the settlement and has agreed not to encourage the use of the chants in California’s public schools.
“We filed this lawsuit after we discovered that California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, a resource guide for local school districts, included prayers to Aztec gods—the same deities that were invoked when the Aztecs worshipped with human sacrifices,” said Paul Jonna, attorney at LiMandri & Jonna and the Thomas More Society.
“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 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.’ The idea was to use them as prayers,” Jonna said.
Jonna threatened civil litigation “against any local school district that violates the Constitution and incorporates these Aztec prayers in class” now that the state has excised them from the ESMC.
The Aztec prayer has been taught in several individual school districts such as San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) and Salinas Union High School District (SUHSD), according to CFER.
The SBE approved the final ethnic studies curriculum on March 18 last year, “a model that is still deeply rooted in Critical Race Theory (CRT) and critical pedagogy, with a race-based lens and an oppressor-victim dichotomy,” CFER stated. “The Aztec Prayer component, titled ‘In Lak Ech Affirmation’ and the Ashe Prayer component are two particularly egregious examples.”
The lawsuit had asked that the Aztec and Ashe prayers be removed from the ethnic studies curriculum. According to CFER, the Aztec prayer repeatedly invokes, makes intercessory requests, and gives thanks to five deities: Tezkatlipoka, God of the Night Sky; Quetzalkoatl, God of the Morning and Evening Star; Huitzilopochtli, God of Sun and War; Xipe Totek, God of Spring and Hunab Ku, God of the Universe.