September 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A far-right legal group is suing a San Diego public school that changed its name to distance itself from a controversial Catholic saint.

The school had formerly been named for Junipero Serra, a Catholic missionary in California in the 1700s with a controversial legacy as a colonialist and abuser of Native Americans.

The press to change the name was led by students who pointed to Serra’s troubling legacy. Serra, who operated on behalf of the Spanish crown, forced some Native Americans to convert to Christianity against their will and abused some who rebelled against him.

After the school board voted to change the name of the institution to Canyon Hills High School, the Thomas More Society, a far-right Catholic legal group, sued on behalf of some local residents, asserting that the renaming disfavors Catholicism and that it failed to follow proper procedures.

At the same time the name changed, the board also dropped the school’s mascot of a conquistador and replaced it with a rattlesnake. The Thomas More Society claims that this change also favors religion, since some native tribes consider rattlesnakes to be sacred. (In fact, the change was probably made because rattlesnakes, like other school animal mascots such as bears and mountain lions, are considered to be fierce creatures.)

The Thomas More Society is best known lately for filing a slew of lawsuits designed to overturn the results of 2020 election and keep Donald Trump in power. The legal gambit  failed spectacularly after several courts rejected the lawsuits.