San Diego Parents Sue State Over Aztec, Ashe Prayers in Curriculum

By Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.
September 3, 2021 Updated: September 3, 2021

Three San Diego parents have teamed up with a watchdog group to sue the State of California over its ethnic studies program for allegedly violating their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER) and parents Eric Gonzales, Steve Houbeck, and Jose Velazquez filed a lawsuit on Sept. 3 against the state government and its agencies the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond was also named in the suit.

CFER and the co-plaintiff parents allege that prayers to Aztec and Ashe gods in the state-approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) violate the California Constitution’s free exercise of religion and no government aid clauses.

In a statement, Velazquez suggested that the ESMC favors Aztec and Ashe gods over other religions and beliefs.

“While we recognize the values of teaching history, cultures and world religions in our schools, we firmly oppose biased instruction materials and methods that favor any particular belief, religion or religious faction,” Velazquez said.

“As a Latino American, I want our diverse cultures and history to be celebrated without elevating any religious activity. The religious prayers in ESMC are by no means representative of our proud Hispanic heritage,” he said.

“Both the U.S. and California Supreme Courts have made absolutely clear that prayer in public schools is prohibited,” the lawsuit states (pdf).

Neither California Attorney General Rob Bonta, his office, nor Thurmond responded to inquiries on Friday.

Epoch Times Photo
Frank Xu, president of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. (Courtesy Frank Xu)

‘A Race-Based Lens’

CFER President Frank Xu criticized the ethnic studies program in a media release.

“The ESMC’s unequivocal promotion of five Aztec gods and the Yoruba religion through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice,” Xu said.

“This public endorsement of the Aztec and Yoruba religions fundamentally erodes equal education rights and irresponsibly glorifies anthropomorphic, male deities whose religious rituals involved gruesome human sacrifice and human dismemberment.”

Critical Race Theory

Xu said these alleged violations are “only the tip of the iceberg” of what’s wrong with the ESMC program which claims is a “trojan horse” being used to usher critical race theory (CRT) into California classrooms.

CFER states that the ESMC is deeply rooted in CRT and critical pedagogy “with a race-based lens and an oppressor-victim dichotomy.”

The organization claims the Aztec Prayer, titled “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” and the Ashe Prayer component “are two glaring examples of ESMC’s unconstitutional and CRT-based nature” and that “the prayers demonstrate ESMC’s politicized championing of critical consciousness, social justice, transformative resistance, liberation and anti-colonial movements in the teaching of ethnic studies.”

The California State Board of Education approved the final ESMC in March, and California lawmakers have proposed legislation Assembly Bill 101 (AB 101) to make the ESMC mandatory for all students as a requirement for high school graduation.

Over the summer months parents have packed many school board meetings across the country to protest CRT, which is based on neo-Marxist principles. Karl Marx focused on class struggles between the “bourgeois” and the “proletariat,” while CRT hinges on the struggle between white “oppressors” and “oppressed” other races.

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, CRT originally developed from critical legal studies, which formed in the 1970s. As described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, critical theories are largely rooted in ideas inspired by Marxism, with stated objectives such as explaining “what is wrong with current social reality” and providing “achievable practical goals for social transformation.”

Freedom of Religion

CFER and the other plaintiffs are represented by a group of San Diego lawyers affiliated with the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm dedicated to safeguarding freedom of speech, traditional family values and parental rights.

“Our clients have both a religious and civic objection to the Aztec prayer, and they do not want their children chanting it, being asked or pressured to do so, or risking ostracism if they refuse,” attorney Paul Jonna stated in the CFER media release.

“Under both the California and United States Constitutions, they have the right to expect all branches of the state government, including the State Board of Education and the Department of Education, to respect this choice. Furthermore, all Californians have the right to expect that tax-supported public schools will not aid or promote this religion,” Jonna said.

The lawsuit also points out the State Board of Education appointed R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, one of the authors of “Rethinking Ethnic Studies,” to chair the committee formed to develop an ethnic studies model curriculum.

“Cuauhtin demonstrates an animus towards Christianity and Catholicism” and claims in his book that Christians committed “theocide” or killed the gods of indigenous tribes, the lawsuit alleges.

“On information and belief, Mr. Cuauhtin’s response to this alleged ‘theocide’ is to include in the ethnic studies curriculum various prayers that are based on indigenous religious principles,” the lawsuit states.

Rituals performed by the Aztecs in relation to their gods were “gruesome and horrific, involving human sacrifice, cutting out human hearts, flaying the sacrificed victims and wearing the skin, sacrificing war prisoners, and other inhuman acts and ceremony,” the lawsuit states.

“Any form of prayer and glorification of these beings in whose name horrible atrocities were performed is repulsive to the plaintiffs and to any reasonably informed observer.”

The Aztec Prayer is intended to involve all students in the classroom, “forcing students to either participate in the prayer or elect not to participate and face the social implications of declining to participate, which represents a violation of such students’ rights to the free exercise of religion under the California constitution,” according to the lawsuit.

“Printing and disseminating the prayer also constitutes an improper government aid of religion in violation of the California constitution,” it states.

The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego.

Brad Jones
Brad Jones is an award-winning journalist based in Southern California.