Peoria (Az.) school board member stops reading bible verses following FFRF complaint

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is pleased to report that a member of the Peoria (Ariz.) Unified School District governing board has agreed to stop reciting bible verses during meetings — at least for now. 

The national state/church watchdog applauds the district for taking appropriate action to protect the constitutional rights of its students, parents and community members, even though the school board member has announced intent to involve a Christian nationalist outfit in contesting that decision.

FFRF wrote to the school district in late May, pointing out that board member Heather Rooks quotes from the bible at every board meeting, and that another board member, Rebecca Hill, was starting to join in. Rooks read from the bible during the section of the meeting reserved for members to “publicly recognize schools, groups or individuals who have made a contribution to the district, as well as share information related to their service as Board members.” 

The board has heeded FFRF’s request and recently sent Rooks a letter directing her to stop quoting bible verses during meetings. At last Thursday’s board meeting, Rooks announced: “Based upon the district’s letter, I will refrain from reciting bible verses at this time and will have my attorneys at First Liberty Institute handle this matter.”

Rooks appears to openly embrace Christian nationalism and has invited her followers to attend board meetings en masse, who sometimes disrupt the gatherings. FFRF cited as an example the May 11 meeting, when Hill recited a disturbing New Testament verse implying that individuals who lead people away from Jesus should be drowned (Matthew 18:6). Rooks immediately recited 1 Corinthians 2:5: “That your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

Wrote FFRF Attorney Chris Line: “While board members are free to promote their personal religious beliefs however they wish in their personal capacities outside of the school board, as government officials they cannot be allowed to commandeer the board in order to impose their personal religious beliefs on district students, parents, and employees.”

FFRF pointed out that statements of school board members are attributable to the district. FFRF warned that if board members continue to impose religion on those in attendance, it will subject the school district to unnecessary liability and potential financial strain. When FFRF secured a court order against a California school district regarding its school board prayers, the court ordered the district to pay more than $200,000 in the plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs.

“We’re glad to see this resolved, for now, as we had many complaints from area residents about this,” comments FFRF Co-President Dan Barker. “It’s unfortunate, however, that this school board member still does not understand the difference between her personal beliefs and her responsibility to help oversee a public school district that must welcome everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or rejection of religious beliefs.”

In fact, countless surveys show that the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification is “nonreligion,” with the “Nones,” as they have been dubbed, accounting for almost one-third of the adult population, making it the largest sector by “denomination” (or lack of denomination).

FFRF is confident that the district’s request to Rooks is consistent with upholding the board’s constitutional duties under the Arizona State Constitution, Article 2, Section 7, which bars any sectarian instruction to be imparted in any school or state educational institution, and the U.S. Constitution’s mandate of governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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