A school board member in Arizona is suing her school board because she was told she couldn’t quote Bible verses during meetings.
Board member Heather Rooks said the Peoria Unified School District in Glendale claimed she violated the Constitution by citing Scripture.
At a board meeting last June, Rooks read Ephesians 6:13 to the board. “So put on every piece of God’s armor so that you can resist the enemy in times of evil,” according to KNXV-TV.
Then, at the July board meeting, the school district’s attorney sent his opinion to board members, claiming that quoting Bible verses at board meetings violates the Establishment Clause the US Constitution, the outlet reported.
In August, the school board president then asked Rooks to stop quoting scripture during meeting times specifically set aside for board members to comment on any topic they choose.
As a result, attorneys for the First Liberty Institute and the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Rooks, arguing that the board of directors violated his right to free speech by telling him that she couldn’t quote the Bible.
According to the complaint, “Rooks’ recitation of a passage from the Bible, without commentary, elaboration or proselytizing, during his comments to the Board of Trustees, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” The Establishment Clause provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Rooks’ practice accords with over 200 years of historical practices and understandings of this nation. See Marsh v. Chambers, 463 US 783, 786 (1983) (“The opening of sessions of legislative and other public deliberative bodies with prayer is deeply rooted in the history and tradition of this country.”). Officials from Presidents Washington and Lincoln to President Biden regularly recited Scripture while carrying out their official duties.
“The idea that the Establishment Clause prevents public officials from quoting the Bible is simply false. It has never been the law. And it has never been the history or tradition of this country,” Andrew Gould, lead attorney for First Liberty, told KNXV-TV.
Gould, who formerly served as an Arizona Supreme Court justice, explained to KJZZ Radio why Rooks recites scripture during board meetings.
“So the reason Heather recites scripture is just to give herself strength during these very contentious school board meetings,” he said.
Gould said the board had not shown a compelling interest in restricting Rook’s speech.
“This is simply content-based censorship and restriction of his views,” he said.
“It’s because the district told her to stop reciting verses. The district told her it was a violation of the Establishment Clause. So she really has no choice but to protect his rights in court,” Gould told the outlet.
“It saddens me a little bit,” Rooks told KNXV. “I’m grateful to my attorneys, but it just saddens me that we’re in this great country, America, and we can’t protect our First Amendment rights.”
CBN News has reached out to the Peoria Unified School District for comment. In an emailed response, Erin Dunsey, a district spokeswoman, said Peoria Unified had not formally received a complaint as of Thursday afternoon.
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