Chino Valley Unified School District

By Beau Yarbrough, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Posted: 04/03/16 – 3:05 PM PDT |

CHINO HILLS >> Almost two months after the Chino Valley Unified school board was ordered to cut out the heavy use of prayer during meetings, the same federal judge is ordering four board members to pay for the legal fees of the winning side.

On Feb. 18, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ordered the board to end its years-long tradition of “reciting prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing at board meetings.” The school board has been opening its meetings with religious invocations since November 2013. On March 7, the board voted to hire the Murrieta-based law firm Tyler & Bursch to handle their appeal.

In the meantime, Bernal wants the four board members leading the spiritual charge in the district to pay the legal fees of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Wisconsin-based group that sued the district over the prayer issue, along with anonymous district staff, students and community members.

Bernal ordered board president Andrew Cruz and board members James Na, Sylvio Orzco and Irene Hernandez-Blair Thursday to pay a total of $202,971,70 to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for their attorney’s fees and other costs.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4, including the late Antonin Scalia, that local officials may open public meetings with prayers — even explicitly Christian ones — so long as the government agency does not discriminate against minority faiths when choosing who may offer a prayer and the prayer does not coerce participation from nonbelievers.

But the Chino Valley school board appears to have gone beyond what Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, said was permissible for government prayer.

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