School board members in prayer lawsuit ordered to pay attorney fees

School board members in prayer lawsuit ordered to pay attorney fees

Order comes after judge ruled that Chino Valley (Calif.) board members were regularly injecting religious content into meetings. 

Four members of the Chino Valley (Calif.) Unified school board have been ordered to pay a total of nearly $203,000 in fees for lawyers that mounted a challenge to the board's practice of injecting prayers and Bible readings into meetings.

The San Bernardino Sun reports that U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, who ruled in February in that the board's actions were improper, ordered board president Andrew Cruz and board members James Na, Irene Hernandez-Blair and Sylvio Orzco to pay a total of $202,971.70 to the Freedom From Religion Foundation for attorney fees and other costs.

Bernal found the board members' "policy and custom of reciting prayers, Bible readings, and proselytizing at Board meetings, constitute unconstitutional government endorsements of religion in violation of plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group, sued the district in 2014 over the prayer issue on behalf of anonymous district staff, students and community members.

The four members of the school board weren’t just opening meetings with a prayer — something that many government agencies do — but often repeatedly stopped meetings to make long expressions of their faith, according to regular meeting attendees.

"Our plaintiffs told us the board proceedings were more like a church service than a school board meeting," Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor said after the judge's February decision. "So my reaction to the ruling is, 'Hallelujah!'"

 

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