How Calvary Chapel is Helping a School Board Blur the Church-State Divide

How Calvary Chapel is Helping a School Board Blur the Church-State Divide
Cameron K. Lewis/OC Weekly

By Amy Julia Harris, Reveal

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Bible verses, calls to accept Jesus and the promise of eternal life can be heard in two disparate places in a southeastern suburb of Los Angeles: the Calvary Chapel Chino Hills megachurch and the Chino Valley Unified School District Board of Education.

Three of the five school board members worship at the evangelical church on Sundays; two of them continue praying and preaching during the board meetings on Thursdays.

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"Our lives begin in the hospital and end in the church," then-board President James Na said during a meeting in January 2014, according to a video of the meeting. He urged onlookers to surrender themselves to God and, to "everyone who does not know Jesus Christ, go find him."

Some parents in the district say such proselytizing belongs at church, not at the school board. Parents first raised concerns about the prayers in September 2013--a few months before Na encouraged people to find Jesus--contacting the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin nonprofit atheist group that opposes entanglements of church and state. The group sent board members a letter notifying them they were violating federal laws.

That didn't stop the public praying.

"For the past week, I've been hearing in my mind, 'I can only imagine seeing the glory of God and dancing with Jesus,'" Andrew Cruz, currently the board's vice president, said from the dais during an October 2013 meeting, a month after the atheist group's letter landed. He drove that point home with a quote from 1 Corinthians: "Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture, and he was buried and he was raised on the third day, according to the Scripture."

From fights over how to legally teach the Bible in public schools to bills allowing prayers in the classroom, school boards in pockets of the country continue to grapple with where to draw the line when it comes to religion in public education. Continue reading this story at revealnews.org.

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. This story was originally published there. Contact her at aharris@cironline.org and follow her on Twitter: @amyjharris.

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When Calvary Chapel Tried to Take Over Santa Ana Schools By Gustavo Arellano

Calvary Chapel members trying to remake public schools in their church's gay-hating, fire-and-brimstone image is nothing new. Last decade, their target was the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD). In 2004, three fired counselors from Valley High School filed a lawsuit alleging a "common plan and scheme of certain district administrators and school officials who participated in a faith-based association to promote the interest of others who participated in this faith-based association."

The faith-based association? A Bible-study group led by Calvary Chapel members.

The lawsuit alleged the cabal had a pal in then-Superintendent Al Mijares (currently superintendent for the Orange County Department of Education) and an ally on the board of trustees in fellow Calvary Chapel member Rosemarie Avila. And it was Mijares and Avila who quietly presided over one of the most embarrassing school board spectacles in OC history, when more than 50 Calvary Chapel members asked the board to not grant domestic-partner benefits to SAUSD teachers.

As I documented then (see "A Night at the Queer-Bashing," April 1, 2004), the nine-hour meeting turned into a parade of prudes railing against the homosexual agenda. "You don't see two birds taking off, two male birds taking off to a nest," said one of the speakers. "You don't see two female birds taking off to a nest. You see a male and female bird taking off to nest. If you allow [domestic benefits], it will lead to the devastation of our civilization."

A decade later, SAUSD still stands, and the gays haven't taken over . . . yet.

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