Ninth Circuit Forbids School Board Invocations and Censors Private Citizens


Tyler & Bursch, LLP July 25, 2018 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Desare Ferraro at 951-600-2733

Ninth Circuit Forbids School Board Invocations and Censors Private Citizens

Chino, CA —Today, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the Chino Valley Unified School District board policy that allows invocations before the start of school board meetings is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The Fifth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals came to a different conclusion in 2017 in American Humanist Association v. McCarty.

The Ninth Circuit further affirms the District Court’s injunction that enjoins the CVUSD school board members “from conducting, permitting or otherwise endorsing school sponsored prayer in Board meetings.”

“This requires the Board to censor or otherwise remove individuals who attempt to say a prayer, or anything that might resemble a prayer, during the public comment period,” said Robert Tyler of Tyler & Burch, LLP and legal counsel for CVUSD. “Such an overbroad injunction is a clear violation of the right of private citizens to address their local representatives in public meetings and is dangerous to the First Amendment.” Footnote 20 of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion makes this point more clear.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld ceremonial prayer at city council meetings in Town of Greece v Galloway. In that decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy noted the historical significance of such invocations. “Ceremonial prayer is but 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…,” Kennedy wrote.

The CVUSD school board will be meeting in the coming weeks to determine its next course of action.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit’s Opinion can be found here.

The Riverside County law firm of Tyler & Bursch, LLP, represents CVUSD, with the support of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit legal organization.

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Advocates for Faith & Freedom is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts. The firm, in association with Tyler & Bursch LLP, has represented clients across the country on matters governing land use and religious liberty in the public square.

Is Jesus Allowed In School? Advocates for Faith & Freedom Files Suit

Advocates for Faith & Freedom Press ReleaseSeptember 8, 2014 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Victor Bermudez or Lori Sanada (888) 588-6888

Is Jesus Allowed In School? Advocates for Faith & Freedom Files Suit

West Covina, CA. Advocates for Faith & Freedom filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Monday, September 8th 2014. The federal complaint comes after the parents of Isaiah Martinez felt their son’s right to freedom of religious speech was revoked in his classroom. Last Christmas, Isaiah Martinez took Christmas gifts intended for his first grade teacher and classmates to Merced Elementary in the West Covina Unified School District. Each gift consisted of a traditional candy cane with a message attached that recited the legend of the candy cane. The legend references a candy maker who created the candy cane to symbolize the life of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah’s older sister told him about the legend of the candy cane and Isaiah asked if he could share it with his teacher and his classmates. His sister then purchased candy canes, and helped Isaiah printed the candy cane message and tie a copy to each candy cane.


When Isaiah brought his Christmas gift to school, his teacher took possession of the candy canes. At the direction of the school principal, the teacher told Isaiah that “Jesus is not allowed in school” and ripped the candy cane message from each candy cane, threw the messages in the trash, and handed the candy canes back to Isaiah for delivery to his classmates. Isaiah then nervously handed the candy canes to his classmates in fear that he was in trouble for trying to bring a little Christmas cheer and “good tidings” to class.

Isaiah’s parents reached out to Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a non-profit public interest law firm, to learn whether the school and administration’s actions were lawful.

Advocates immediately sent a letter to the West Covina Unified School District demanding that the school apologize for how Isaiah was treated and adopt a policy prohibiting school officials from discriminating against or intimidating Christian and other religiously-affiliated students. Ultimately, Isaiah wants to be able to hand out his gift in class like all the other students in the future.

In January the story garnered attention from major news outlets including FoxUnivision, and NBC.

The school conducted an investigation and substantially confirmed the facts as presented, but the school district believed that their actions were warranted. Advocates then appealed to the school board requesting once again that Isaiah be allowed to hand out the candy canes and that the school board revise its policies. After the school board failed to adopt a new policy, Advocates appealed to the California Department of Education but the CDE has not yet responded.

Robert Tyler, lawyer and General Counsel, explained their decision to file a law suit saying, “the school has neglected to correct its actions, and after exhausting all options to avoid a lawsuit we were left with no choice but to file a complaint in federal court. We are asking the court to protect Isaiah's rights and the rights of others like him from having their religious speech censored. Students do not shed their First Amendment rights just because they enter into a classroom”.

If successful, the law suit will secure the right for Isaiah to share his Christmas gifts with his fellow classmates.

A copy of the original demand letter can be found here. A copy of the federal complaint can be found here. A picture of Isaiah and his Father, Alex Martinez, can be found here.

Advocates for Faith & Freedom is a nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts. You can visit our website at

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