Counsel opposing FFRF school board prayer suit skipped hearing

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.

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ordered 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.” Attorney Michael Peffer of the Pacific Justice Institute was told if he didn’t respond in writing by June 15, it “may result in the entry of a default against Defendants,” the judge’s order warned. (Peffer did respond.)

FFRF, which has about 3,300 members in California, sued the school district in November to challenge heavily sectarian prayers opening school board meetings. After an outpouring of support from other district families and school employees, FFRF added 18 more plaintiffs to bring the total to 22.

FFRF filed a protective order to keep plaintiffs’ identities confidential and protect students and families from retribution.

The Pacific Justice Institute is a Sacramento-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.

Freedom From Religion Foundation