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California Requires Aztec Prayer in Schools, and Civil Rights Group Sues

Traditional Aztec dancers prepare to perform at Chicano Park in San Diego on Feb. 3, 2018. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images)
Traditional Aztec dancers prepare to perform at Chicano Park in San Diego on Feb. 3, 2018. (Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images)

Parents and a civil rights group are suing California over its imposition earlier this year of a novel public school curriculum that reportedly has students praying to Aztec gods.

“The curriculum’s unequivocal promotion of five Aztec gods or deities through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice,” Frank Xu, president of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, said in a statement.

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

“The Aztecs regularly performed gruesome and horrific acts for the sole purpose of pacifying and appeasing the very beings that the prayers from the curriculum invoke,” said Paul Jonna, a partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Thomas More Society Special Counsel.

“The human sacrifice, cutting out of human hearts, flaying of victims and wearing their skin, are a matter of historical record, along with sacrifices of war prisoners, and other repulsive acts and ceremonies the Aztecs conducted to honor their deities,” Jonna said in a statement. “

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

The case, Californians for Equal Rights Foundation v. State of California, was filed Sept. 3 in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, by attorneys from the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm.

Californians for Equal Rights Foundation is a nonprofit civil rights organization headquartered in San Diego. It was founded after the defeat of Proposition 16 in 2020, which if passed, according to Ballotpedia, would have repealed Proposition 209 from 1996. Prop 209 provided that government and public institutions may not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to persons on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, and public contracting.

The other plaintiffs are Eric Gonzales, Steve Houbeck, and Jose Velazquez, all of whom are parents who now have or had children enrolled in public schools in California, according to the legal complaint.

In addition to the state, the other defendants are the California State Board of Education, California State Department of Education, Tony Thurmond in his official capacity as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Linda Darling-Hammond in her official capacity as president of the State Board of Education.

The legal complaint details the California State Board of Education’s approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which includes a section on “Affirmation, Chants, and Energizers.” Among these is the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” which invokes five Aztec deities. This pagan prayer addresses the deities both by name and traditional titles, recognizes them as sources of power and knowledge, invokes their assistance, and gives them thanks.

The prayer invokes the names of five beings worshiped by the Aztecs as gods or demi-gods, specifically, Tezkatlipoka, Quetzalkoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Xipe Totek, and Hunab Ku.

According to the legal complaint, the State Board of Education appointed R. Tolteka Cuauhtin, a co-author of the 2019 book “Rethinking Ethnic Studies,” to chair a committee tasked with developing an “ethnic studies model curriculum” (ESMC). In his book Cuauhtin “demonstrates an animus towards Christianity and Catholicism—claiming that Christians committed ‘theocide’ (i.e., killing gods) against indigenous tribes.” In March, the Board of Education approved the ESMC.

The curriculum also includes the “Ashe Affirmation,” which “invokes the divine forces of the Yoruba religion four times—honoring this divine force and seeking assistance for the school day,” the complaint states. Yoruba is “an ancient philosophical concept that is the root of many pagan religions, including santeria and Haitian vodou or voodoo,” according to the Thomas More Society. It reportedly has 100 million believers worldwide in West Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guyana, and in Caribbean nations.

“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,” Jonna added.

“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.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, could not be reached for comment over the holiday weekend.

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