A school board member in an Arizona school district is suing the school district after she was told to stop quoting Bible verses during board meetings.
Heather Rooks, who serves on the Peoria Unified School District board, filed the federal lawsuit, claiming the district has violated her rights to free speech and free exercise of religion, according to the Religion News Service.
Rooks is being represented by law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and the First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal group that previously defended a school football coach who had been fired for praying on the field. He won his case at the Supreme Court level.
"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," First Liberty Senior Counsel Andy Gould said in a statement.
Rooks, who has four children who attend school in the district, has served on the board since January 2023. During the “board comments” section of the meeting, she has previously quoted short Bible passages.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” Rooks said at a meeting in January, quoting from the first chapter of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible.
“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge,” she said in April, quoting Psalm 16.
She said she read the verses to encourage her fellow board members.
“With everything that goes on as a new school board member, we’re facing a lot of adversity and challenges. So, reading those verses really gave me some strength and courage and peace,” Rooks said.
In February, the group Secular Communities for Arizona filed a complaint with the board, claiming that Rooks violated the Constitution’s establishment clause.
“It is coercive, embarrassing, and intimidating for citizens from a different religion or nonreligious citizens to display deference toward a religious sentiment in which they do not believe, but which this school board member does,” wrote Dianne Post, legal director of Secular Communities for Arizona, in an email included in the lawsuit.
In July, Rooks said she received a letter from the school district instructing her to stop quoting Scripture.
Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Anastasiia Stiahailo
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.
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