Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has built a career on protecting religious liberties in public spaces. Texans (and the country) were reminded of this commitment in December, when Paxton sued a Killeen middle school
for not allowing a teacher to post a Bible quote on her classroom door.
But when he recently caught wind of a Frisco school going out of its way to designate a prayer room for students, his office sent an angry letter to the superintendent's office demanding an explanation.
The only difference? These Frisco students were Muslim.
According to the Texas Tribune
, Liberty High School Muslim students have been quietly using room C112 for seven years to practice their daily prayers — a solution for students missing class to run home and pray in the middle of the school day. It wasn't a problem until earlier this month, when someone sent the AG an article
from the Liberty High School's student-run paper, the Wingspan.
The brief story
on the prayer room, penned by high school junior Marisa Uddin, began: "At many public schools, religion isn’t talked about openly. But here on campus, there’s a room dedicated to the religious needs of some students." It went on to explain just how important this room has become to the teenagers, and how it reflects the school's commitment to religious freedoms.
But these first lines were all Paxton had to hear.
Instead of calling an actual school administrator to clarify, the AG's office instead issued a press release
and fired off an urgent letter
to Frisco Independent School District's superintendent Jeremy Lyon.
"It appears that the prayer room is 'dedicated to the religious needs of some students' — namely, those who practice Islam," wrote Deputy AG Andrew Leonie in his letter to Lyon. "It is unclear whether students of other faiths may use the room at the same time or at others times during the week,"
With this high school article as his only source, Leonie concluded: "It appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs."
According to Lyon, this is completely false. Which is something Paxton would have known if he'd reached out for an explanation before firing off a press release.
"This ‘press release’ appears to be a publicity stunt by the AG to politicize a nonissue,” Lyon wrote in reply
to Leonie's letter. “Frisco ISD is greatly concerned that this type of inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the District, its students, staff, parents and community in danger of unnecessary disruption.”
Just a week ago, Lyon added, Liberty's principal had been interviewed by the same school paper explicitly welcoming all students to use the prayer room. He went on to list the other religious groups on campus, including a Christian Bible study, that the AG "ironically" failed to mention in its press release.
"It is Frisco ISD’s hope that this 'clarification' will resolve any concerns," Lyon concludes. "Ideally, the Frisco ISD would appreciate a 'Press Release' acknowledging the District’s compliance with federal and state laws and regulations to clear up any confusion."
According to a Frisco ISD spokesperson
, Paxton has yet to return any phone calls to his office.