Villalobos’ contract with the Lemon Grove School District, located near San Diego, was terminated early by the district in the spring of 2005. The termination came a few days after a complaint from another teacher at the school that some of Villalobos’ music mentioned God. One of the main songs at issue is entitled “O Sifuni Mungu” and is largely in Swahili. Villalobos testified that she used the song because of its African rhythm.
At trial, lawyers for the school district argued that Villalobos did not have a discrimination case because she had not suffered as much as the Jews in Nazi Germany. The school district attorneys also excluded people of faith from the jury. In the end, the judge and jury sided with the school district. Attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute will be appealing the decision to seek enforcement of state law, which decrees that the Education Code shall not be interpreted so as to exclude all religious references from the study of dance, art and music.
PJI staff attorney Karen Milam, the lead trial counsel for Villalobos, commented, “We continue to believe in the promise of the Education Code that religious art and music should not be banished from our schools. We are looking forward to vindicating that promise in the court of appeals.”
Brad Dacus, president of Pacific Justice Institute, stated, “No teacher should lose his or her job for the use of incidental, illustrative religious references. We will continue to pursue justice in this case so that every educator in California can be assured of their religious freedom.”