A California school board's decision to keep fighting the Freedom From Religion Foundation is likely to be expensive for the board—and therefore California taxpayers.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal ruled on Feb. 18 against the Chino Valley Unified School District for overtly and consciously inserting religion into official proceedings. FFRF had filed a lawsuit along with 22 local residents on Nov. 13, 2014, challenging the School Board's prayers, bible readings and proselytization at its official gatherings.
The court ordered the School Board to pay court costs and the attorney fees for the plaintiffs. So far, the legal costs total almost $200,000. If the School Board moves to appeal, the price tag for the Chino Valley Unified School District—and local taxpayers—would steeply increase.
"An appeal could take another two years, given the backlog in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the total fees and costs for a simple appeal would probably be $350,000," says FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel. "Depending on how much the district decides to appeal, the costs will go up from there."
The School Board will decide Monday, March 7, about how to proceed. If it decides to bring in outside counsel for the appeal, that could financially burden it significantly more than the attorneys currently working pro bono for the district.
FFRF urges the Chino Valley Unified School District not to prolong the legal battle.
"The board members shouldn't let their faith trump good sense," says Seidel.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with 23,000 nonreligious members, including more than 3,000 individuals in California.