Can the Chino Hills, CA Public Board Still See the Lines Between Church and State?
Members of Calvary Chapel, a megachurch in Chino Hills, are guilty of oversharing at school board meetings and have been accused of forcing their religion on others.
With a majority of school board members steadfastly religious Calvary Chapel members, it may not be shocking to see how frequently they bring religion into not only the school’s politics, but to the school curriculum and daily activities as well.
The Chino Valley Unified School District is currently facing a lawsuit for implementing prayer during school announcements and sporting activities. The lawsuit was filed by Freedom From Religion Foundation in November 2013, pairing with a number of unnamed parents and students. The pastor for the Calvary Church, Jack Hibbs, has revealed himself to be highly active in terms of politics and religious liberty for Christians.
3/5 Board Members attend Calvary Church
Not only did the late board president, James Na, participate in the evangelical church, but other board members are well-known members as well. In September 2013, the nonprofit atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation received complaints from parents and students who are concerned with the way the school is proselytizing religion throughout the day. The FFRA sent a letter to the board alerting them that their behavior is against federal law.
A month later, Andrew Cruz, the current VP of the school board responded with a quote from the Bible section 1 Corinthians.
James Na, at a January 2014 meeting, encouraged others to give themselves over to God, and find him. Many parents were offended and upset.
Line Blurring Between School and Religion
Over the past year, the high court reached the decision that councils can begin their meetings with Christian prayer, something that has in the past been banned. Calvary Chapel has taken these inconsistent decisions to mean they can bring religion into their schools. In 2013, Mississippi forced the schools to enforce policies to use prayer during intercom announcements, sports and assemblies. In 2014, the Texas State Board of Education released textbooks that inflated the influence biblical figures had on the Founding Fathers.
In 2010, when the Chino District was down $30 million and removing courses, they implemented a Bible course. The teachers and members of the church donated $4,326 for 75 textbooks titled The Bible and Its Influence. Hibbs dismissed concerns about the Bible class, which many parents felt endorsed children towards the Christian faith. He said, “We’re talking about bringing back the Bible. We’re going back to our roots. The first educational book at Harvard and Yale was the Bible.” One parent and community member, Cherie Pondoff, said she’s “concerned that it’s anti-God anything nowadays, and I feel like our youth don’t have moral teaching or foundation.” The school board unanimously approved of the course, though many parents felt it was unfair “that taxpayers are being forced to continue funding an elective that should never have been allowed to begin with, with such an unacceptably low enrollment, while our budget crisis is forcing the elimination of classes and programs and putting our students at an extreme disadvantage with incredibly high class sizes,” according to the parent of 2 students, noting the few children that had signed up for the class.
Pastor Puts His Hand In Religion
In spite of the requirement that churches refrain from endorsing political campaigns and making statements on the matters, Pastor Hibbs has frequently promoted not only presidential candidates but school board candidates. He promoted for James Na during his run, and has promoted Cruz during his school board election and endorsed Sylvia Orozoco. The way he operates is inviting the candidate to attend the sermon, and announcing the illegality of endorsing anyone during the service “behind the pulpit.” He’d then step from behind the pulpit, “bless the candidate and say how great he or she is and that I’m voting for them, and then go back behind the pulpit,” he said. In spite of the complaints the Internal Revenue Service has received, nothing has been done. He adds that “every time we do these endorsements, that candidate has won.”
Many parents have signed onto the lawsuit against the school to stop the prayer in Chino Valley schools, accusing the board of trying to convert the students toward Christianity. Michael Anderson, one of the few named parents, said that “they are so unbelievably over the top with praying and proselytizing and it’s inappropriate. The most insulting thing to me is that the board pushes dogma on everyone else in the community, and they’re not being inclusive of everyone’s beliefs.” The school board is supported by the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit conservative Christian law firm named by the Southern Poverty Law as a hate group since 2014.