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AZ School Board Sued by Member for Banning Bible Reading at Meetings: 'It's Just Simply Censorship'

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A school board member in Arizona is suing her board because they told her she could not quote Bible verses in meetings.

Board member Heather Rooks said the Peoria Unified School District in Glendale claimed she violated the Constitution by quoting scriptures. 

At a board meeting last June, Rooks read Ephesians 6:13 to the board. "Therefore put on every piece of God's armor so that you will be able to resist the enemy in time of evil," according to KNXV-TV

Then at the board meeting in July, the school district's attorney sent his opinion to board members, saying citing Bible verses at board meetings violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the outlet reported. 

slider img 2In August, the school board chairman then instructed Rooks to stop quoting scripture during meeting time specifically set aside for board members to comment on any topic they choose.

As a result, attorneys with First Liberty Institute and the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Rooks arguing the board violated her right to free speech by telling her she couldn't quote the Bible.

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."

"The idea that the Establishment Clause prevents public officials from citing the Bible, is just wrong. It's never been the law. And that's never been the history or tradition of this country," First Liberty Senior Counsel Andrew Gould told KNXV-TV.  

Gould, who was once an Arizona Supreme Court justice, explained to KJZZ Radio why Rooks recites scriptures during board meetings. 

"So the reason why Heather recites scripture is just to give her strength during these very contentious school board meetings," he said. 

Gould said the board has not shown a compelling interest in restricting Rook's speech. 

"It's just simply censorship and content-based restriction of her viewpoint," he said. 

"It's because the district has told her to stop reciting verses. The district has told her that it's a violation of the Establishment Clause. So she really has no choice other than to protect her rights in court," Gould told the outlet. 

"It kind of saddens me a bit," Rooks told KNXV. "I'm thankful for my attorneys, but it just saddens me that we're in this wonderful country, America and that we can't have our First Amendment rights protected."

CBN News has reached out to the Peoria Unified School District for comment.  In an emailed response, Erin Dunsey, a spokesperson for the district, said Peoria Unified has not officially been served the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of