Credit: Jon Genius/Flickr

The Chino Valley Unified Board of Education in California won’t go down without a fight – and a prayer.

On Monday, the board enlisted Tyler & Bursch LLC, a Christian law firm, to appeal a judge’s order banning the board’s members from praying and reading out loud from the Bible during public meetings. The firm promised to defend the board free of charge.

Throngs of congregants from Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, where three of the five school board members worship, attended the board meeting to encourage its members to continue to stand up for their Christian faith. One church member offered to raise $1,000 for the board’s war chest, according to parents at the meeting.

Last month, a U.S. district judge ordered the school board to stop praying, saying the board’s meetings amounted to “unconstitutional government endorsements of religion.” The school board has been embroiled in a lawsuit since 2014, when the Freedom From Religion Foundation teamed up with parents to sue after board meetings veered into religious territory that they said had nothing to do with education.

The school board now must pay at least $200,000 in legal fees for losing the prayer lawsuit and could pay much more if it loses its appeal.

“An appeal could take another two years, given the backlog in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the total fees and costs for a simple appeal would probably be $350,000,” said Andrew Seidel of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. “Depending on how much the district decides to appeal, the costs will go up from there.”

Irene Hernandez-Blair, one of two board members who encouraged the board to drop the prayer case, took to Facebook to defend her decision.

“I did NOT vote against prayer,” she wrote. “We voted against pursuing a COSTLY appeal. I want to focus my energy on students, public education and being a prudent steward of taxpayer funds which are intended solely for educating our children.”

Amy Julia Harris can be reached at aharris@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @amyjharris.

Amy Julia Harris

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal, covering vulnerable communities. She and Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also led to four government investigations, including two criminal probes and four federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery and fraud.

Harris was a Livingston Award for Young Journalists finalist for her investigation into the lack of government oversight of religious-based day cares, which led to tragedies for children in Alabama and elsewhere. In a previous project for Reveal, she uncovered widespread squalor in a public housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and traced it back to mismanagement and fraud in the troubled public housing agency.

Before joining Reveal, Harris was an education reporter at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She has also written for The Seattle Times, Half Moon Bay Review, and Campaigns and Elections Politics Magazine.