(The Center Square) – Three parents and the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, (CFER), a civil rights group, have sued the state of California over a public school curriculum that includes teaching the state’s 1.7 million high school students how to pray and chant to Aztec gods.
The Thomas More Society sued the state of California in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, on Sept. 3. The lawsuit claims the State Board of Education violated the California Constitution’s free-exercise and establishment clauses and state law banning government aid to religion.
Also named as defendants are the California State Board of Education, California State Department of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, and president of the State Board of Education Linda Darling-Hammond.
At issue is an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum unanimously approved March 18 by the Board of Education. One section on “Affirmation, Chants, and Energizers,” includes teaching students to repeat the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” which invokes Aztec deities by name, along with their titles and attributes.
The material is largely based on a book coauthored by Tolteka Cuauhtin, according to the lawsuit. Cuauhtin was appointed by the board to chair a committee tasked with developing the curriculum, although different committees, leaders and participants have changed over the span of the curriculum development. The complaint states that Cuauhtin “demonstrates an animus towards Christianity and Catholicism – claiming that Christians committed ‘theocide’ (i.e., killing gods) against indigenous tribes.”
The curriculum provides instruction on how students can chant phrases used by Aztec worshipers centuries before Spanish settlements were officially established in California, according to the lawsuit.
The Aztecs, who lived in Mexico, never directly contributed to America’s founding. They were conquered by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1521.
Cortés and other conquistadors described witnessing ceremonies performed by Aztec priests involving the chants in question and human sacrifice, reports that were later confirmed by archeological findings of thousands of human skulls, History.com reports.
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paula Jonna notes, “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.”
CERF argues that “California teaches systemic racism.” Its president, Frank Xu, says the curriculum’s promotion of Aztec deities “through repetitive chanting and affirmation of their symbolic principles constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice.
“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.”
Jonna says parents objecting to the curriculum “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.”
The curriculum was unanimously approved by the school board after four years of work, including two years of discussions, hearings, protests and roughly 82,000 public comments.
Board President Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond said in a news release in March that passing the curriculum was “an important step toward confronting and ultimately transforming racism in our society and in our state.” The vote had “been a long time in coming,” she added, saying the board was “reminded daily that the racial injustice it reveals is not only a legacy of the past but a clear and present danger.”
The board argues the curriculum “is aimed at empowering students by illuminating the often-untold struggles and contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Latino/a/x Americans, and Asian Americans in California.” It also “gives schools the opportunity to uplift the histories and voices of marginalized communities in ways that help our state and nation achieve racial justice and create lasting change.”
It also clarifies that the curriculum isn’t mandatory and is only intended to provide local school districts with “the background, ideas, and examples to begin local discussions on expanding ethnic studies offerings.”
The Department of Education did not reply to a request for comment. The California Attorney General’s office has not issued a statement on the lawsuit or on the curriculum.
The plaintiffs have asked the court to issue an injunction prohibiting the prayers from being used in the curriculum and in the public schools.