A new California public school curriculum that directs students to offer pagan prayers and chants to five Aztec gods and a “divine force” of the Yoruba religion violates the California Constitution, the Thomas More Society says in a lawsuit filed against the state and its Board of Education.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 3 in Superior Court of California in San Diego, on behalf of three California parents and the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation. The suit alleges the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, approved by the State Board of Education on March 18, contravenes the free exercise and no-aid clauses of the California Constitution. The plaintiffs are seeking a permanent injunction forcing removal of the pagan prayers and affirmations.
Janet Weeks, director of communications for the California State Board of Education, said the department has not seen or reviewed the suit and would have no comment.
The model curriculum is provided to the nearly 10,600 public schools in the state that serve nearly 6.2 million students in grades K-12. Chapter 5 of the nearly 900-page curriculum offers nine pages of “affirmations, chants and energizers” meant to “bring the class together, build unity around ethnic studies principles and values, and reinvigorate the class following a lesson…”
The “In Lak Ech Affirmation” is an Aztec prayer invoking the names of Tezkatlipoka, Quetzalkoatl, Huitzilopochtli, Xipe Totek and Hunab Ku — five beings worshipped by the Aztecs as gods or demi-gods, the suit says. The Aztecs were a Mesoamerican people who lived in what is now central Mexico in the 14th through early 16th centuries.
“The names of these Aztec gods are collectively invoked 20 times, four times each, throughout the prayer,” the suit reads. “They are honored and praised by repeatedly invoking their respective names, followed by the mention of various attributes and principles relating to these Aztec gods.” The prayers ask for things like “beautiful knowledge,” becoming “more realized human beings,” as well as “strength that allows us to transform and renew.”
On Aug. 26, Thomas More Society attorneys sent a letter to Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction at the California Department of Education, asking for removal of the prayers and affirmations. When no reply was received by Sept. 2, the lawsuit was filed.
Paul M. Jonna, special counsel for Thomas More Society and a partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP, said the case “is about as clear cut of a violation as I’ve ever seen.”
“This is blatantly unconstitutional,” Jonna told Catholic World Report. “…Outright praying to deities, prayer drafted by public school officials, invoking their intercession, praising them and honoring them, is about as unconstitutional as it gets. It’s just black-and-white law. The fact that they thought they could get away with this is probably the most shocking thing.”
Aztec gods were worshipped with brutal human sacrifice, including ripping the beating heart out of a victim. Aztec worship is associated with black magic, cannibalism, bloodletting and the flaying of victim’s bodies to provide a skin suit worn as “golden clothes” by Aztec priests, the suit says. Victim’s hearts were often burned in offering and the dead bodies then fed to animals or eaten by the people. Other victims were fastened to frames and shot full of arrows, with their blood dripping down like the “fertile spring rains.”
“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,” Jonna said in a news release. “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. 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 suggested student activities also include an affirmation to Ashe, described as the “divine force at the root of the Yoruba religion.” The prayer seeks intercession from Ashe for the school day, and includes the words: “Ashe, Ashe, Ashe, still I rise, Ashe.” According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “the traditional Yoruba religion has an elaborate hierarchy of deities, including a supreme creator and some 400 lesser gods and spirits, most of whom are associated with their own cults and priests.” Yoruba is the root of other pagan religions, including Santeria and Haitian voodoo, according to the Thomas More Society.
The suit says the student activities are a violation of the California Constitution, including Article I Section 4 — The Legislature shall make no law respecting establishment of religion — and Article 16 Section 5, which states government aid of religion is prohibited. Further, the U.S. Supreme Court and the California Supreme Court have held that prayer in public schools is prohibited, the suit says, and prayers drafted by public school officials “are doubly prohibited.”
Frank Xu, president of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, said the prayers and invocations represent “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 deities whose religious rituals involved gruesome human sacrifice and human dismemberment,” Xu said in a statement.
While the legal issues raised in the case are compelling, moral issues might be of even more immediate concern to parents. Monsignor Stephen J. Rossetti, an exorcist and president of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal, said studying world religions is one thing, but participation could create many problems.
“It would be spiritually problematic for a Christian to be asked to practice a pagan religion,” said Msgr. Rossetti, a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America and author of Diary of an American Exorcist. “Human behavior means something, regardless of what one intends. So one might not intend to truly invoke pagan deities, but engaging in such rituals could lead to unintended spiritual problems.”
Consequences could include “demonic affliction, which can manifest in a wide variety of ugly and distressing symptoms,” Msgr. Rossetti said.
“If one believes that there is truly evil in the world, then one is advised to stay away from it,” he said. “Our experience has been that many of the so-called deities are actually demons. Invoking them in a spiritual ritual is a dangerous idea, regardless of one’s intentions.”
In a recent entry on his blog, Msgr. Rossetti said he is “increasingly distressed” by the number of people worshipping demons. He cited the case of a witch who was tormenting one of the the St. Michael Center’s clients. The tormentor said she was worshipping “Astiri Casirri,” a supposed Mexican deity. He knows of others who practice magic and claim to worship Eastern deities.
“These ‘gods’ are not real deities. They are masks of Satan. Each one of the individuals above has fallen into servitude of the Ruler of Hell. They have chosen to worship demons,” Msgr. Rossetti wrote. “We are moving rapidly into a post-Christian era. If people do not worship the one true God, who loves us, created us and redeemed us in Jesus Christ, they will eventually fall into some form of idolatry.”
California’s ethnic studies curriculum is based on the “pedagogy of the oppressed” from Marxist theoretician Paolo Freire, according to Christopher F. Rufo, a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute, a think tank based in New York City.
The curriculum “instructs teachers to help students ‘challenge racist, bigoted, discriminatory, imperialist / colonial beliefs’ and critique ‘white supremacy racism and other forms of power and oppression,’ ” Rufo wrote in a March article in City Journal. “This approach in turn enables teachers to inspire their pupils to participate in ‘social movements that struggle for social justice’ and ‘build new possibilities for a post-racist post-systemic racism society.’ ”
Rufo said the songs, chants and affirmations in the Ethnic Studies Community Chant “have a clear implication: the displacement of the Christian God, which is said to be an extension of white supremacist oppression, and the restoration of the indigenous gods to their rightful place in the social justice cosmology. It is, in a philosophical sense, a revenge of the gods.”
“California parents should be concerned,” Rufo wrote. “Under the guise of ‘equity’ and ‘empowerment,’ activists within the public education system have developed this radical new curriculum in order to transform California schools into factories for left-wing political activism. They have recast the United States as an oppressor nation that must be deconstructed and subverted through politics.”
Jonna said despite the “feel-good phrases” in the chants, there is a deeper agenda at work that is anti-Christian.
“The people behind this are obviously anti-Christian,” he said. “I don’t think we need to prove that to win our case. All we need to prove is this is a prayer and they’ve endorsed this religion. Do I personally think these people are anti-Catholic? Absolutely. Is there evidence supporting that? I think so, yes. But it’s not really an issue we’re going to need to prove.”
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