A California ethnic studies curriculum that asks students to chant and pray to Aztec gods is being challenged in court by a group of parents, who say the material violates both the U.S. and the state Constitutions.
At issue is an 800-plus page Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, which was adopted by the state in March and is being used by the state’s public schools. Among the activities, according to the lawsuit, is a group of “affirmations, chants and energizers” that invoke spiritual beings of the Aztec religion.
The lawsuit was filed against the state by the Thomas More Society on behalf of individual parents and taxpayers and the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation.
“Our clients are not opposed to having students learn about different cultures and religions, including the practices of the Aztecs,” said Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and special counsel for the Thomas More Society. “But the California State Board of Education’s approved Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum goes far beyond that by directing students to pray to Aztec deities. This portion of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum is not only offensive, but blatantly unconstitutional.”
The activities include an Aztec prayer that “invokes five spiritual beings worshiped by practitioners of the Aztec religion,” the suit says. In another activity, students take part in an “Ashe” chant or affirmation by repeating the name “Ashe,” which is the “divine force as recognized in the Yoruba religion.”
“Children are directed to repeat this name, along with other words, in response to various questions, so as to form the phrase ‘Ashe, Ashe, Ashe, Still I rise, Ashe,’” the suit says.
The curriculum says the activities can “bring the class together, build unity around ethnic studies principles and values” and “reinvigorate the class following a lesson that may be emotionally taxing.”
“Use of the prayers and chant violate the Establishment Clauses of both the U.S. and California Constitutions,” the suit says.