The San Diego Unified School District and one of its school principals targeted the Catholic faith and St. Junípero Serra with an illegal, defamatory campaign to effect removal of St. Serra’s name from a high school in the city’s Tierrasanta neighborhood, the Thomas More Society alleges in a 49-page lawsuit filed Wednesday in Superior Court of the State of California.
The lawsuit alleges the March 9 vote by the San Diego Unified School District Board of Education violated California state law and illegally subjected the Catholic faith to a “lynch mob of erasure and anti-Catholic bigotry.” The board vote was based on disinformation about the popularity of renaming the school and influenced by a “slanderous primer” written by a high school student who supported the name change, the suit contends.
The Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based religious-liberty law firm, warned the school district in an August 2020 letter that the campaign to erase Junípero Serra from the building name showed “unconstitutional hostility toward religion.” In a July 12, 2021 letter to the school board, Thomas More Society special counsel Paul M. Jonna said if the body did not reverse the renaming decision at its July 13 meeting, a lawsuit would follow.
“This is another example of the ‘cancel culture’ mentality that radical leftist people in education are trying to force on an unwilling American public,” said Charles S. LiMandri, another special counsel for the Thomas More Society. “Father Serra was a great defender of the indigenous people of California, and he deserves our best efforts to defend his legacy.”
Catholic World Report sought comment from San Diego Unified School District on the lawsuit, but did not receive a reply on Wednesday.
Junípero Serra High School in Tierrasanta opened in 1976. The March 2021 vote changed the school name to Canyon Hills High School / Mat Kwatup KunKun. The mascot was changed from a conquistador to a rattlesnake. The suit alleges that Serra High School Principal Erica Renfree led the renaming campaign and provided bigoted, slanted information to the school board.
Originally, two Junípero Serra High School students started a petition to remove the conquistador as the school mascot because they thought it improperly celebrated Spanish colonialism. Renfree suggested the students expand the campaign to include renaming the school, the suit alleges. “In effect, Dr. Renfree sought to enlist her students to join a lynch mob of erasure and anti-Catholic bigotry,” the suit said.
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