CVUSD Puts Its Faith In Law Firm Dedicated To Keeping Religion In Schools

(February 23)  Members of the Chino Valley school board are praying that a law firm devoted to doing pro bono work to uphold Christian values and vindicate religious activity in public forums as an exercise of free speech will successfully fend off a lawsuit charging the school district with allowing school board meetings to become a forum for Christian prayer recitals, Bible readings and proselytizing.
In November, the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, Wisconsin filed suit against the district on behalf of two named and 21 unnamed plaintiffs who asserted they were alienated or intimidated at school board meetings because of overt and constant references to Christianity, including “prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing.” The plaintiffs want the intrusion of religiosity into the conduct of district business to cease.
The board last month voted 3-2 against hiring the law firm which normally represents the district to respond to the suit. Instead, the district has engaged the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) for $1 to defend the district in the civil lawsuit.
The Pacific Justice Institute touts itself as a public interest law firm that “handles cases addressing religious freedom, including church and private school rights issues, curtailments to evangelism by the government, harassment because of their religious faith, employers attacked for their religious-based policies, [and] students and teachers rights to share their faith at public schools.”
According to the Pacific Justice Institute’s website, it stands “at the forefront of attorneys who recognize the need to preserve religious liberty in America.” The institute has sought to make a name for itself by taking on cutting edge religious activity-as-free speech cases which ultimately end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, according to the institute’s website, “The Pacific Justice Institute does not focus on just those cases that are likely to go to the Supreme Court. While PJI is willing to take cases to the Supreme Court, PJI has a unique commitment to provide legal counsel and representation to everyone they feel falls within their mission.”
According to the Pacific Justice Institute it “receives almost all of its funding through donations by individuals who believe in the Pacific Justice Institute’s work.”
Pacific Justice Institute attorney Michael Peffer, who works out of the firm’s Santa Ana office, has been assigned to handle the Chino Valley Unified School District case through much of its pre-trial stage. But if the matter goes to trial, the Pacific Justice Institute will roll out its big guns. These include, Brad Dacus, who founded the Pacific Justice Institute in 1997. He was a legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Phil Gramm before he got his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. Dacus spent the early stage of his law career pursuing and coordinating religious freedom and parental rights cases throughout the Western states. He is seen on television expounding on his theories regarding the constitutional protections afforded to Christians as much as he appears in a courtroom. He has been a guest speaker on numerous radio and television programs, participates weekly in several radio talk show interviews, and has appeared on America Live, CBS Evening News, CNN, Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, MSNBC, NBC News, News Talk TV, The Today Show, and many times on the O’Reilly Factor.
Kevin Snider, the chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute since 2004, has been an attorney since 1994, practicing primarily in the area of constitutional law and civil rights during that time. The Pacific Justice Institute legal department that he heads has approximately 1,000 volunteer attorney affiliates who represent people of faith and religious organizations.
Snider has litigated a number of cases which have garnered national attention, including the defense of the national motto – In God We Trust – in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and representing Pastors Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery in opposition to a case which sought to enjoin them from giving the invocation and benediction at the inauguration of President Obama. Snider successfully argued against the request for an injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia just days prior to the inauguration.
Pacific Justice Institute Staff Attorney Matt McReynolds has been with the institute since early 2005, having defended religious liberties by clerking for the American Center for Law and Justice. Among the cases McReynolds has litigated while with the Pacific Justice Institute are the cases International Church of the Foursquare Gospel v. City of San Leandro, establishing one of the leading precedents on the West Coast favoring religious land use; Snatchko v. Westfield LLC, the first case to extend free speech protections in the California Constitution to shopping mall evangelism; Welch v. Brown, defending the rights of Christian counselors to present Biblically-based viewpoints to their minor clients; and Newdow v. Lefever, defeating a challenge to the national motto, “In God We Trust.”
The firm has agreed to represent the school district through trial and all appeals. The Freedom From Religion Foundation suit seeks attorney fees and “nominal” damages for the foundation and the plaintiffs, who include Larry Maldonado and Mike Anderson and parents, students and employees with the district.

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