Shortly after, Rooks announced at a board meeting that she would refrain from reciting Bible passages. She added that she would “have my attorneys at First Liberty Institute handle this matter,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit claims that quoting brief Bible passages without comment does not violate the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment of religion but is instead part of the “longstanding tradition of government officials solemnizing public occasions in this way.”
In conversation with RNS, Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel for First Liberty Institute, clarified that the tradition of calling upon a resource to solemnize an occasion applies to people of all religious backgrounds, not just Christians quoting the Bible.
Rooks’ lawsuit also says the District’s policy and actions “chill her ability to freely speak” and “substantially burden her religious exercise by forcing her to choose between following the precepts of her religion and retaining her position as a member of the Board.” Thus, it argues, the District has violated state and federal laws guaranteeing Rooks’ right to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.
In a call with RNS, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor questioned the efficacy of the suit, saying that because the District didn’t discipline Rooks, there’s “no actual case or controversy for a lawsuit.”
“She’s suing her own school district because she disagrees with a legal opinion about the legal liability that the board is entailing if her conduct continues,” said Gaylor. “Heather Rooks is basically abusing judicial resources in order to fight a culture war.”
Sasser told RNS that in joining the case, First Liberty Institute is “fighting to preserve the correct and original meaning of the Constitution. He added that he thinks school districts are still adjusting to the Supreme Court’s Kennedy v. Bremerton School District decision, which found the Constitution protects a football coach’s right to pray in front of students.
“You have 50 years of legal precedent that essentially tilts the scales in favor of censorship of anything religious in public,” said Sasser. “That is suddenly gone, and the new standard is to accommodate religious speech.”
In her July email to the school board, the board’s legal counsel argued that Kennedy v. Bremerton did not apply because the coach’s prayer was silent and not broadcast publicly. She did not return requests for comment.
As of Monday afternoon, Peoria Unified School District had not yet been served, but Sasser said the process was underway.
“Heather decided to let the legal process play out,” said Sasser. “That’s why we filed the lawsuit: to see if they’re right, or we’re right.”
This article originally appeared here.