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School board member allegedly banned from reciting Bible verses during meetings sues district
Peoria Unified School District Governing Board member Heather Rooks (Image Source: KTVK video screenshot)

School board member allegedly banned from reciting Bible verses during meetings sues district

A school board member recently filed a lawsuit against an Arizona school district after it allegedly banned reciting Bible verses during public meetings.

Heather Rooks, a Peoria Unified School District Governing Board member since January, took legal action against the district after being allegedly told she could no longer quote scripture during the school board meetings' "board comments" period, when members are allowed to give remarks of their choosing. According to her lawsuit, Rooks regularly opened her comments by quoting short verses from the Bible.

Rooks' legal defense, First Liberty Institute, released a press release regarding the lawsuit, claiming the district received letters from anti-religious activist groups threatening legal action if she did not stop referencing the Bible.

In February, activist group Secular Communities for Arizona Inc. submitted a complaint to the board accusing Rooks of "unconstitutional proselytizing," according to the lawsuit.

The complaint stated that the board's legal counsel then directed members not to "pray or recite scripture" during the meetings. Despite the directive, Rooks continued to open her comments with verses from the Bible.

Freedom From Religion, an activist organization that describes itself as "an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church," sent a letter to the board in May demanding Rooks stop reading from the Bible.

During a school board meeting in May, Rooks recited Matthew 18:6, stating, "But whoever causes one of these little ones — who believe in me — to stumble and sin by leading him away from my teaching, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

Freedom From Religion described the verse as "disturbing" and "threatening non-Christians and suggesting that they, as well as those who lead people away from Christ, should be drowned at sea." The group further accused Rooks of "embrac[ing] Christian nationalism."

An attorney for Freedom From Religion, Chris Line, claimed that school board members "need to be neutral when you're acting in a government position."

"This school board member cannot become a public secular government employee and then use that government public position to push a religion," Line told KTVK in June.

Nonprofit pushing to sue Peoria Unified district over Bible versesyoutu.be

Following legal threats from the activist organizations, Rooks stated that the school board chairman told her in August that she could no longer quote scripture.

"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 stated. "The District's policies and actions therefore chill her ability to freely speak, in violation of the First Amendment."

The district told the Daily Caller News Foundation that it has not officially been served with Rooks' lawsuit.

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