By Kate Anderson
Daily Caller News Foundation
Arizona school board member Heather Rooks filed a lawsuit with the First Liberty Institute (FLI) Tuesday alleging that Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) ordered her to stop quoting Bible verses during meetings, which she argued violates her First Amendment rights.
Rooks was elected to the board in 2022 and began reciting scripture during her opening statements during each meeting, which was protested by activist groups and resulted in an email being sent by Lisa Anne Smith, the board’s legal counsel, who said that they “couldn’t pray or recite scripture during Board meetings,” according to the lawsuit. In response, Rooks filed suit against the district, explaining that the board and Smith had claimed reciting scripture was a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment after pressure from outside groups.
“The District’s official policy and actions—which purport to ensure Rooks does ‘not read scripture’ or ‘offer bible verses’—regulate her speech based on its content, message, and viewpoint,” the lawsuit reads. “The District’s policies and actions therefore chill her ability to freely speak, in violation of the First Amendment.”
On Feb. 9, Rooks recited Isaiah 41:10 which says “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” and thanked teachers and parents during her allotted time, according to the lawsuit. Following that meeting, Secular Communities for Arizona, an activist organization, complained about Rooks’ comments and called it “unconstitutional proselytizing.”
The complaint prompted Smith to inform the board that they were not allowed to recite Scripture during the meetings, but Rooks continued to do so anyway, according to the lawsuit. In May, another activist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation, complained and threatened to take legal action against the district if Rooks did not stop “using her position on the board to foist her personal religious beliefs upon district parents and community members.”
Rooks alleged that she was eventually compelled to stop quoting scripture, which FLI argued violated her rights under the Constitution and cited several examples of government officials from “Presidents Washington and Lincoln up through President Biden” who had quoted scripture during their official duties. The lawsuit demands that the court acknowledge Rooks’ right to quote Bible verses and declare that any punishment for this behavior would be a violation of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions.
“Heather takes her responsibilities serving the parents and students in her community seriously, and quotes Bible verses as a source of courage and strength in performing those duties,” Andy Gould, senior counsel at First Liberty said in a statement. “Like so many dedicated public leaders throughout our history, Heather most certainly can use inspirational quotes from religious, historical, and philosophical sources and figures as a source of personal inspiration, as well as encouragement to the community at large.”
PUSD told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it had not officially been served with the lawsuit.
This story originally was published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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