Peoria Unified School District Sued By Rooks For Censoring Scripture Reading At Meetings

heather rooks
Peoria Unified School Board member Heather Rooks.

A federal lawsuit has been filed against the Peoria Unified School District by the First Liberty Institute on behalf of Heather Rooks, a member of the board who was prohibited from quoting scripture during board meetings.

“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,” said former Arizona Supreme Court justice, Andy Gould, now Senior Counsel at First Liberty. “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 and encouragement to the community at-large.”

“I am grateful to be a part of the Peoria Unified School board,” said Rooks. “As a member of the school board, I understand the weight and significance of all of our decisions, and simply find quoting scripture out loud to be encouraging to myself and to many in attendance.”

Rooks began her term as an elected member of the Peoria School Board member in January 2023. During each Peoria School Board meeting, the agenda includes a brief “Board comments” period where individual board members may offer remarks of their own choosing.

Since the beginning of her public service on the board, Rooks has opened her comments by quoting a short scripture from the Bible. The Peoria School Board subsequently received letters from anti-religious organizations, like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, demanding it stop Rooks from reading scripture. In August, the school board chairman instructed Ms. Rooks to stop quoting scripture during meeting time specifically set aside for board members to comment on any topic they choose.

According to the complaint, “Rooks’ recitation of a Bible passage, without comment, elaboration, or proselytization, during her Board comments doesn’t 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 this Nation’s historical practices and understandings. See Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 786 (1983) (“The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”). Public officials from Presidents Washington and Lincoln up through President Biden routinely recited scriptures while performing their official duties.”

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