A group of California taxpayers and school parents is asking the Superior Court of California for a restraining order to block the state’s public schools from using prayers to Aztec and Yoruba gods as a classroom activity. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 7 before Superior Court Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon in San Diego.
Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and school parents Eric Gonzales, Steve Houbeck and Jose Velazquez sued the California State Board of Education, the California State Department of Education and two state officials on Sept. 3. The suit claims the state’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum and its in-classroom activities constitute state-sanctioned prayer, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution. The application for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was filed Sept. 24 by the Thomas More Society, a public-interest law firm that represents the plaintiffs.
“Our clients are not opposed to having students learn about different cultures and religions, including the practices of the Aztecs,” said Paul M. Jonna, 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 application for a temporary restraining order includes testimony from an expert on Aztec history and culture who says the classroom activities of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum constitute in-class prayer, but are neither historically accurate nor useful for understanding the Aztec people.
The model curriculum is provided to the nearly 10,600 public schools in the state that serve some 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 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.
“Having reviewed the ‘In Lak Ech’ affirmation, I can say it is a modern creation that borrows elements of the Aztec religion,” wrote Alan R. Sandstrom, professor emeritus of anthropology at Purdue University Fort Wayne, in an affidavit. “It would be of no real value in learning about the Aztec people or culture of the past or today.”
Sandstrom challenged content from Rethinking Ethnic Studies, a book edited by R. Tolteka Cuauhtin that was used in development of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum. The introduction to the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” Sandstrom wrote, “is not consistent with traditional or modern Aztec culture.” A section of Rethinking Ethnic Studies on “Mesoamerican Indigenous Epistomologies and Pedagogies of Healing,” he wrote, “conflicts with what we know of Mesoamerican culture, and there is no evidence that it was or is part of traditional Mesoamerican indigenous belief.”
Cuauhtin’s scholarship in ethnic studies “reflects animus towards Christianity and Catholicism, which he blames for the demise of indigenous religious beliefs,” the TRO application said. “He also advocates ‘regenerating’ indigenous spiritual practices as a way of combating what he sees as the oppressiveness of Christianity.” Cuauhtin was chairman of the committee that developed the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum.
Professor Sandstrom, who has written dozens of peer-reviewed papers on Nahua / Aztec culture, said the introduction to the in-class activities “does not suggest an appropriate use or include any disclaimers that might render the affirmation non-religious.”
“I strongly believe that children can appropriately be taught about religion and be taught to respect people of different faiths,” Sandstrom wrote. “However, I do not see the ‘In Lak Ech’ affirmation as achieving that goal in an appropriate way. The affirmation as presented amounts to a religious activity that I think has no place in a public school.”
The lawsuit objects to the religious nature of the “affirmations, chants and energizers,” but also the violent nature of Aztec religion. 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 victims’ 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 inclusion of the Aztec and Yoruba prayers “clearly constitutes an unlawful government preference toward a particular religious practice,” said Frank Xu, president of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, in a statement.
Monsignor Stephen J. Rossetti, an exorcist and president of the St. Michael Center for Spiritual Renewal, told Catholic World Report the in-classroom chants to pagan deities are dangerous and could lead to demonic affliction that manifests in “a variety of ugly and distressing symptoms.”
“If one believes that there is truly evil in the world, then one is advised to stay away from it,” said Rossetti, a research associate professor at The Catholic University of America and author of Diary of an American Exorcist.. “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.”
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