School Board Members Barred from Quoting Scripture in Meetings: ‘Threatens Those Who Are Not Christian’
Heather Rooks, an Arizona school board member, was elected to the Peoria School Board in January. Since the beginning of her term, Rooks has been opening her comments by quoting Scripture. “[I understand] the weight and significance of all of our decisions,” she said, “and simply find quoting Scripture out loud to be encouraging to myself and to many in attendance.”
In August, however, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that advocates for the separation of church and state, sent letters to the school board demanding Rooks put an end to her practice. Heeding their demands, the school board chairman told Rooks to stop quoting the Bible in board meetings. As a result, the First Liberty Institute and law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP is suing the Peoria Unified School District on Rooks’s behalf, The Christian Post reported.
The lawsuit defended Rooks’s ability to quote Scripture in school board meetings by arguing the practice does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” The lawsuit also emphasized, “Rooks’ practice accords with over 200 years of this Nation’s historical practices and understandings.” It referenced President Joe Biden when he addressed the nation and acknowledged how the military draws inspiration from Isaiah. It also highlighted President Abraham Lincoln quoting from Matthew at his second inauguration and President George Washington quoting Micah during his resignation.
Despite the historical use of Scripture in public, FFRF wrote that Rooks’s reading of Scripture “threatens those who are not Christian.”
Similarly, Suffolk, Va. school board chairman Tyron Riddick refused to allow board member Angela Kilgore to pray at the end of her public comments. He claimed he could not allow it “per the law.” Riddick also claimed that allowing her to pray would force him to open the door to “Satanists, Muslims, Scientologists or Buddhists to pray in whatever form they want, even if ‘they want to slice a goat or whatever,’” The Virginian-Pilot reported.
In response, the Founding Freedoms Law Center, the legal arm of The Family Foundation, sent a letter to the board, which stated, “The Constitution prohibits the government from excluding religious expression from a public forum; it certainly does not require such censorship. … This is true even if the government fears that others may disagree or be offended by the religious expression.”
Concerning the Arizona school board, FFRF fears Rooks has used her position to “foist her personal religious beliefs upon district parents and community members.” They also shared how Rooks sharing Bible verses has led others on the board to do the same, as reported by their complainant.
In response, Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, commented to The Washington Stand, “There are many other belief systems being promoted and evangelized in public school, most especially gender ideology, the belief that you can be born in the wrong body.” She continued, “FFRF doesn’t complain about those ideas being pushed from the dias.” Kilgannon pointed out the hypocrisy in censoring prayer and Scripture in school board meetings while, at the same time, matters of gender ideology are being forced upon children and teachers.
“This is religious persecution by FFRF,” she concluded. “I’m so glad First Liberty is defending Ms. Rooks and our religious freedoms.”
Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.