Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton criticized a north Texas school district for providing a prayer space only for Muslim students — but the district says it accommodates students of all faiths, and the attorney general would know that if he had bothered to call the superintendent.
Since 2007 Muslim students at Liberty High School in the Frisco Independent School District have been allowed to use a spare classroom to pray in during the afternoon. The vacant classroom has been used for this purpose in the afternoons for a decade now without issue, school district officials insist.
But Paxton, who in the past has spoken about the importance of protecting religious freedoms, says he is still concerned. In the past, Paxton – who once sued a middle school principal to keep a Bible quote on a door - has criticized what he calls anti-Christian discrimination in public schools, and now he has zeroed in on Frisco, intent on righting the wrongs he claims are occurring in an empty high school classroom that some students use to pray.
The attorney general's office on Friday sent the school district an open letter expressing Paxton's "concerns" that the school district had violated the Constitution by not making the classroom available to students of all faiths. “Instead, it appears that the prayer room is ‘dedicated to the religious needs of some students’ – namely, those who practice Islam,” Paxton states in the letter.
And it didn't stop there either. Paxton was backed up by Gov. Greg Abbott. “The Texas Attorney General is looking into the Public School Prayer Room issue many of you have questioned,” Abbott said via Twitter.
Paxton's letter has already gotten substantial pushback. The Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the move, calling it a "cheap Islamophobic publicity stunt."
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Frisco ISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon quickly fired back with an open letter of his own. Lyon notes the classroom is open to students of all faiths and that the school district is complying with Texas law on this matter, including the state's own Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that no one be "substantially burdened" while practicing their religion.
Despite Paxton's claim that he had already been in touch with school district officials before sending his open letter, the school district had not, in fact, been contacted by the attorney general's office on the issue, Lyon states.
Lyon then called Paxton out on the AG's reasons for taking a run at Liberty High School's part-time prayer room in the first place, stating that Paxton's "'press release' appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a nonissue." (Lyon had told KERA just a week ago that the classroom was open to students of all faiths.)
Lyon also chided Paxton and company for attempting to use the high school's prayer room just to whip up controversy, noting this kind of "inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the district, the students, staff, parents and community in danger of unnecessary disruption."
But none of this has caused Paxton to change his tune. He turned up on Fox News over the weekend and again insisted that the prayer room must be open for all students, disregarding the fact that it already is. Even though Paxton was somehow available to chat with Fox, though the school district says he hasn't returned its calls.