FFRF calls out Calif. school board member for denigrating non-Christians

A group of students in a California school lined up against a wall

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging a member of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees to stop using her school board position to promote her personal religious views while disparaging others.

A concerned district community member reported that board member Lisa Davis has been utilizing her position to foist her religious beliefs upon district parents and community members and to denigrate non-Christian students and families in the district, specifically members of the Satanic Temple who have organized an afterschool club. The complainant noted that while they are not a “satanist,” they were shocked and dismayed that a school board member would say “satanists are the worst” and seek to deny them equal rights.

At the Jan. 17 board meeting, Davis urged the district to develop a policy to deny school access to school facilities for groups not aligned with her Christian values. In her full statement, she implied that members of the Satanic Temple are comparable to Nazis, Hitler, the Proud Boys, Antifa and the KKK. She later called the Satanic Temple a “hate group” and opined that it should not be able to identify with its chosen religious affiliation, but should instead change it to something that she personally approves of:

Make no mistake, the satanistic[sic] group is a hate group organized with a specific purpose to mock and demon[sic] Christian beliefs. It could very easily rebrand as an open-minded group, scientific group or even an atheist group. Choosing to brand themselves as a satanic group serves only to express hate. While we respect everyone’s right to believe whatever they may and worship whatever they like, the nature of this group forces this body to understand the limits of its policy. Why is this okay and not a Nazi group? So while the United States Supreme Court has ruled on related issues, I am not aware of specific precedent that would stop us from denying a Satan club, if indeed that is where the board decides to go.

Davis also used her position as a board member to organize a prayer walk on Feb. 11 at Truman Benedict Elementary School in order to further promote her personal religious beliefs and take action against the After School Satan Club. The complainant reports that community members questioning her event and its discriminatory intent on her official Instagram page, where Davis regularly posts important information as a member of the board, were blocked and their comments were deleted.

“While board members are free to promote their personal religious beliefs however they wish in their personal capacities outside of the school board, as government officials they cannot be allowed to abuse their position to promote their personal religious beliefs and to denigrate members of minority religions,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line writes to Board of Trustees President Krista Castellanos.

The Constitution’s Establishment Clause — which protects Americans’ religious freedom by ensuring the continued separation of religion and government — dictates that the government cannot in any way show favoritism toward religion, FFRF emphasizes. The statements of school board members are attributable to the district. It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for the district or its agents to promote a religious message because it conveys government preference for religion over nonreligion.

As school board members, Davis and all other members of the board serve a diverse population that consists not only of Christians but also minority religious and nonreligious students, parents and community members. Religious communications made in their official capacity send a message that excludes those among the 37 percent of Americans who are non-Christians, including the nearly one-in-three adult Americans (28 percent) who are religiously unaffiliated. Religious statements coming from the school board needlessly alienate the non-Christian and nonreligious residents of the Capistrano Unified School district — turning them into outsiders in their own community.

FFRF is therefore requesting that all members of the board refrain from discussing their religious beliefs during meetings in order to uphold the rights of conscience embodied in the First Amendment, and that the board remembers that as long as it allows other nonprofit groups to host clubs in school facilities after school hours, it must allow all nonprofits to do so, including the After School Satan Club.

“At FFRF, we would greatly prefer that religious clubs not meet in our public schools at all, because religion is divisive, as this controversy shows, and taxpayers of all and no religions pay for school upkeep,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “But if Christians are allowed to organize afterschool clubs for students, then non-Christian clubs are entitled to meet and to be treated as respectfully.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 5,100 members and two local chapters in California. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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