An Arizona school board member has filed a lawsuit claiming that rules banning her from reciting Bible passages at official gatherings violate her right to free speech.
Heather Rooks, an elected member of the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board, sued the district itself in the lawsuit filed last week in Arizona federal court.
According to the complaint, Rooks took to reciting a Bible verse during the portion of the meeting where members could provide comments of their choice as a means of “strengthening herself to discharge her official duties.”
But Rooks says she felt “compelled to stop quoting Scripture” after receiving a letter from the district warning her that doing so violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits government to establish a religion.
In her lawsuit, Rooks is seeking unspecified damages and an injunction upholding her right to recite Bible passages during the board’s comment period as protected speech.
Heather Rooks, an elected member of the Peoria Unified School District Governing Board, has filed a lawsuit claiming that a district rule banning her from reciting Bible passages at official meetings violates her right to free speech.
A spokesperson for the Peoria Unified District did not immediately respond to a request for comment from DailyMail.com on Friday evening.
Attorney Andy Gould of the First Liberty Institute, which is representing Rooks alongside law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, said in a statement: “Heather takes her responsibilities in serving the parents and students in her community seriously, citing Bible verses as a source of courage . and strength in performing these tasks.
“Like so many dedicated public leaders in our history, Heather can certainly use inspirational quotes from religious, historical and philosophical sources and figures as a source of personal inspiration, as well as encouragement for the community at large.”
“I am grateful to serve on the Peoria Unified School board,” Rooks said in her own statement.
“As a member of the school board, I understand the weight and significance of all our decisions, and I find quoting Scripture aloud encouraging to myself and to the many in attendance,” she added.
Rooks, a mother of four who ran for the Peoria school board in a campaign for parents’ rights, began her term in January 2023.
She says that since the beginning of her term, she has opened her remarks during the board comment period by quoting a short text from the Bible.
Rooks, a mother of four who ran for the Peoria school board in a campaign for parents’ rights, began her term in January 2023
The Peoria Unified School District headquarters can be seen above
“At the beginning of her remarks, Rooks often recited a short Bible verse – a simple quotation without elaboration or further comment,” the lawsuit said.
“Each time Rooks recited a text, she chose the verse to celebrate the occasion and strengthen herself to perform her official duties,” the suit adds.
In her lawsuit, Rooks cites U.S. elected officials, from George Washington to President Joe Biden, who have also cited religious scriptures in public comments, arguing that doing so is part of a long tradition and a protected form of speech.
“Rook’s use of quotations from a sacred and historical text (the best-selling book in the world) to celebrate public occasions and fortify herself to carry out her official duties fits comfortably within a long-standing, well-accepted tradition,” the lawsuit argues.
“This Court must declare its legality and remove the threats that forced Rooks to suspend its practice.”
However, her attorneys say the Peoria School Board soon began receiving letters from “anti-religious organizations” demanding the district ban Rooks from reading the Bible.
One of the groups protesting Rooks’ Bible quotes, Secular AZ, released a statement calling her lawsuit “yet another in a long line of bullying behavior aimed at intimidation of the board, a usurpation of legitimate authority and an enforcement of Christian nationalists’. dogma.’
“Courts have consistently ruled that prayer is not permitted during school board meetings due to the importance of maintaining secularism in schools and the risk of pressuring impressionable students, who often attend meetings,” the statement said.
“The fact that presidents and legislators refer to Scripture is irrelevant.”
The case is 23-cv-02028 in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.