At a board meeting on February 13, 2019, the Orange County Board of Education voted to intervene in what is called the “Chino Valley Unified School District lawsuit.” The Orange County Board of Education maintains a separate invocation policy. Therefore, even though those who filed the lawsuit voted not to pursue an appeal on the school prayer ban, the Orange County Board of Education decided to intervene, citing its own issues regarding religion and prayer at board meetings.
The board, which consists of five members, voted to adopt an intervention resolution in a closed session on February 13, 2019. The intervention resolution was adopted for the purpose of seeking a review of the case by the United States Supreme Court.
Board President, Ken Williams, filed the resolution on February 16, 2019, in which he stated that the decision made by the Chino Valley School Board to not seek an appeal has a direct impact on the Orange County Board of Education and that the Board has a significant interest in the outcome of the case.
The Chino Valley School Board initially lost its case in February, 2016, when a federal judge ruled against the Board in a ruling which also included the School District. The ruling made reference to proselytizing during school board meetings, making religious statements, and saying prayers.
The case was filed by attorneys of the non-profit organization, Freedom from Religion Foundation–FFRF. A letter was received in August, 2016 from FFRF referencing the Chino Valley lawsuit, according to Mr. Williams. The Orange County School Board was admonished by the FFRF in the letter for “unconstitutional prayer and the promoting of religion,” and according to Mr. Williams, the letter also referenced the fact that the school’s boardroom featured the words “In God We Trust” on the wall, citing this as unconstitutional.
In 2016, the Chino Valley School Board was represented by Tyler & Bursch, LLP, Lawyers & Advisors, in its appeal of the federal judge’s 2016 decision. It is this same legal firm that will be providing pro bono services to the Orange County Board of Education, according Tyler & Bursch spokesperson, Desare Ferraro.
Ferraro stated that the law firm will ask the 9th Circuit to accept the intervention request, but if they refuse, the firm plans to ask the United States Supreme Court to review the denial.
According to documents filed with the courts, Chino Valley Unified has opened school board meetings with prayer since 2010, but the matter was not the subject of public controversy until 2014. Within the next several weeks, members of the community will know whether or not the 9th Circuit will allow the Orange County Board of Education to intervene with regard to this case.
Our private tutors in Orange County have been following this case closely, and will be sure to report back regarding any further developments.