May 27, 2022

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The Thomas More Society, a law firm specializing in conservative issues, successfully sued to block a requirement by the Califonia Board of Education for students to pray to Aztec deities as a part of an ethnic studies curriculum.  

“We filed the lawsuit after we discovered that California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, a resource guide for local school districts, included prayer to Aztec gods – the same deities that were invoked when the Aztecs worshipped with human sacrifices,” said Paul Jonna, partner at LiMandri & Jonna LLP and Thomas More Society Special Counsel. “The Aztec prayers at issue – which seek blessings from and the intercession of these demonic forces – were not being taught as poetry or history. Rather, the curriculum instructed students to chant the prayers for emotional nourishment after a ‘lesson that may be emotionally taxing or even when student engagement may appear to be low.’ The idea was to use them as prayers.”

The prayer, referred to by the school system as the  “In Lak Ech Affirmation”, is included in Chapter 5 of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum  (ESMC) which includes a section of ‘Affirmation, Chants, and Energizers’ as part of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum  (ESMC) that teaches about “the histories, struggles, and contributions of Asian, Black, Latino, and Native Americans”. The ESMC is required for all high-school students.

Although labeled an ‘affirmation,’ it addresses [five Aztec deities] both by name and by their traditional titles, recognizes them as sources of power and knowledge, invokes their assistance, and gives thanks to them. 

The deities referenced in the chant purportedly include Tezcatlipoca, Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totec. Tezcatlipoca was one of the major deities of the Aztec pantheon and was a master of black magic as well as tempting virtuous deities in sinning through lust and drunkenness. The spread of the worship of Tezcatlipoca introduced human sacrifice into central Mexico. n the Aztec religion, Huitzilopochtli was the deity of war and human sacrifice. Xipe Totec was believed by the Aztecs to be the god that invented war. The yearly festival honoring him began and culminated in the gladiatorial sacrifice of war prisoners who had their beating hearts ripped out and their skin flayed. The priests paraded around the city wearing these human skins. The festival culminated in fertility rituals.

The court ruled that the curriculum was in violation of the California Constitution. The state’s Free Exercise Clause guarantees “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference,” and No Aid Clause prohibits any government entity from granting anything that endorses or aids “any religious sect, church, creed, or sectarian purpose.”

As a result of the settlement, the California Department of Education will remove the prayers from the Aztec and Yoruba (or Ashe) religions from the state-approved curriculum and will issue a public notice to all California school districts, charter schools and county offices of education. The department, along with the State Board of Education, also agreed not to encourage the use of the two challenged chants in California public schools.

The curriculum is deeply rooted in Critical Race Theory which presents culture through a race-based lens and an oppressor-victim dichotomy. 

The ESMC is controversial and has gone through at least five drafts. The initial draft hinted at white privilege among the Jewish population, implying that Jews were the primary group with advantages.

The initial draft also referred to Israel’s 1948 War of Independence as the Nakba, the Arabic word meaning “catastrophe.” This is a term used exclusively by the “Palestinian” supporters who want to deny the legitimacy of Israel. The curriculum also included a song lyric that appeared to accuse the Jews of manipulating the press, a long-standing anti-Semitic stereotype.