A religious legal group representing a California school district being sued over school board prayer by the Freedom From Religion Foundation failed to show up for a mandatory scheduling conference June 8 before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Federal Judge Jesus G. Bernal has ordered the counsel for the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education to "show cause why he shouldn't be sanctioned in the amount of $500 for failure to appear." If Michael Peffer, of the Pacific Justice Institute, does not respond in writing by June 15, it "may result in the entry of a default against Defendants," the judge's order warned.
FFRF, a national state/church watchdog representing more than 22,500 nonreligious members nationwide, including 3,295 in California, sued the school district last November to challenge heavily sectarian prayers opening the school board meeting. After an outpouring of support from other district families or school employees, FFRF added 18 more plaintiffs for an impressive total of 22.
FFRF filed a protective order to keep plaintiffs' identities confidential and protect students and families from retribution. The Pacific Justice Institute is a California-based organization known for its anti-gay activism. It circulates a book informing schools about "strategies to practically and legally evangelize your school," and calls the separation between state and church "a big lie."
FFRF is represented by attorney David J.P. Kaloyanides, with FFRF Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Market and Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel serving as co-counsel.