They Sued Chino Valley Unified for Freedom of Religion! Really?

We filed a major brief on April 26, 2017 in the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeal in our defense of Chino Valley Unified School District and its longstanding policy that allows an opening prayer before its public school board meetings. The School District became the target of a federal lawsuit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an aggressive, anti-religion organization based in Wisconsin.

After losing in the lower court, the School Board approached our lawyers to take over their defense.  Our lawyers at Tyler & Bursch now represent the School District in the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeal. Advocates for Faith & Freedom is raising the funds to underwrite this very expensive and nationally significant case and we need your financial support.

Would you partner with Advocates for Faith & Freedom with your tax-deductable donation for our pro-bono defense of the School District?

This case is so important that we asked some of our friends and colleagues to file amicus briefs/friend of the court briefs. Jay Sekelow of American Center for Law and Justice, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, and Freedom, Law and Religious Practitioners have all filed supporting briefs. Many more are likely to be filed.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation claims that the School District’s policy of allowing prayer before its public board meetings violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. Without your support and our strategic defense, the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s radical view of the First Amendment will become the law of the land.

The lower court initially sided with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and ordered the School District to stop the invocations before board meetings. Our appeal seeks to reverse the lower court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that opening City Council meetings with prayer does

not violate the Establishment Clause, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The U.S. Supreme Court also held that legislative prayer is considered to have “historical precedent” and “lends gravity to public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and expresses a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society.”

Because of your enormous outpouring of prayers and generous financial support, I think it’s important to share more excerpts from our brief, so you can read what was actually cited and submitted to the court. You can also view our entire 70 page brief. Here are a few excerpts from our brief:

The prayers offered at the start of the Board of Education meetings were constitutionally permissible, legislative prayers under Marsh and Town of Greece. The District Court held that the Marsh/Town of Greece legislative prayer exception does not apply to school boards…. The district court erred. The line of cases concerning prayers at school do not apply to opening prayers at the Board of Education meetings because those prayers are constitutionally permissible legislative-prayers.

. . . .

           The Legislative prayer exception was established for State Legislatures and “other deliberative bodies”. These “ceremonial” prayers were simply a “recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define. . . .”

. . . .

The Supreme Court extended the Legislative prayer exception to local legislative bodies. “In Marsh, the Nebraska state legislature opened each session with a prayer. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 784-85 (1983). A citizen sued, claiming the practice violated the Establishment Clause. Id. at 785. Relying on the “deeply embedded” history and tradition of our country, the Supreme Court held that the practice of allowing opening prayers for a legislative body or “other deliberative public bodies” did not violate the Establishment Clause. Id. at 786, 795. Indeed, the Court found that the Framers of the Constitution “did not consider opening prayers as a proselytizing activity or as symbolically placing the government’s official seal of approval on one religious view. . . . Rather, the Founding Fathers looked at invocations as ‘conduct whose . . . effect . . . harmonized with the tenets of some or all religions.” Id. at 792 (quoting McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 442 (1961).)”

. . . .

“The Supreme Court in Marsh and Town of Greece found that prayers before deliberative public bodies are Constitutional legislative prayers to which the traditional Lemon test [a three-part test  put  forward  in  Lemon v. Kurtzman which is used to assess whether a law violates the Establishment Clause] does not apply.”

. . . .

“The Fifth Circuit recently held that prayers delivered by elementary and middle school students during the ceremonial portion of school board meetings do not violate the Establishment Clause. The Fifth Circuit reasoned that school boards are deliberative public bodies to which the legislative prayer exception applies.” At the strategic guidance of Tyler & Bursch’s lawyers, the Chino Valley Unified School District board members have wisely agreed to amend its policies to restrict some of the more controversial comments of board members during public meetings and to focus this appeal solely on the constitutionality of allowing a ceremonial prayer at the beginning of school board meetings.

We are confident that we will prevail with the appeal, whether at the Ninth Circuit or before the U.S. Supreme Court. We’re fighting for invocations; something that’s been going on since the founding of our country. That is why this case is of utmost importance to religious liberty in our country.

There is no other country in the world whose morals and laws are influenced more by Christian values than ours. But, those principles are being silenced by extreme groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation.

As always, Tyler & Bursch and Advocates for Faith & Freedom offer our services pro bono in protecting religious liberty in order to confront these anti-Christian organizations.

If you are able, your tax-deductable gift to Advocates for Faith & Freedom for $25, $50, $100 …or more, will allow us to continue to fight these court battles and ensure we remain free to believe, worship, and pray in this “one nation under God.” God bless you for your generosity, your faithfulness, and your prayers.


Legal Update

  • Also known as Go Mobile For Life, The Scharpen Foundation is challenging Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California on California’s "Reproductive FACT Act" which compels Christian-based, pro-life clinics to post a notice advising the women they serve that free or low cost abortions are available, along with where they can be obtained and a phone number. The judge in this case is expected to issue a preliminary written decision any day now and we look forward to presenting our evidence in a full trial to prove discrimination of pro-life clinics statewide. Through litigation, we have uncovered covert discrimination. The law purports to apply to thousands of licensed medical clinics. But after exemptions, it really only applies to approximately 82 pro-life organizations!


  • In a unique, two-pronged strategy, as Advocates for Faith & Freedom argues for the Scharpen Foundation in Superior Court, we are concurrently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court in the Living Well Medical Clinic case (sister case to Scharpen) as to whether the High Court will accept our federal case for review, challenging California’s anti-life law.


  • If you’ll remember, in the free speech VICTORY of Mackey v. Meyer, three federal appellate judges in the Ninth Circuit issued a final ruling in favor of a Christian man who was unlawfully arrested for reading the Bible aloud in front of the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Having won our appeal in the Ninth Circuit, the CHP settled and agreed to pay $10,000 to our client! We will now file a motion to recover attorney fees to support future cases.  
  • Instead of making a final ruling in April on the religious land use case of Calvary Chapel Bible Fellowship County of Riverside the U.S. District court hearing resulted in the judge asking both sides to submit additional briefing on specific issues. Based on the oral arguments at the April hearing, we’re optimistic that we will persuade the judge to rule in our favor at our final hearing in August, and that he will find that Riverside County’s zoning ordinance unlawfully discriminates against churches.


  • Church United, an organization whose purpose is to reach California pastors with the message to be bold in proclaiming a Biblical worldview to their congregations, has invited me to join them along with 170 plus pastors on their fully-sponsored trip to Washington, DC. Our goal is to encourage and support those courageous pastors who no longer wish to stay silent about the moral and ethical issues facing our culture today.