March 20, 2017
By David Lee
FRISCO, Texas (CN) – A suburban Dallas school district slammed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday, calling his warning about the legality of a high school prayer room used by Muslims a “publicity stunt” meant to “politicize a nonissue.”
Frisco Independent School District Superintendent Jeremy Lyon questioned the sincerity of a letter Paxton’s office sent him. It asks for information about a room mostly used by Muslim students at Liberty High School, and clarity “in the interest of protecting religious liberty” in Texas public schools.
“Reports from Liberty’s news site indicates that the prayer room is not available to students of all faiths,” Paxton’s letter states. “Instead, it appears that the prayer room is ‘dedicated to the religious needs of some students’ – namely, those who practice Islam. It is unclear whether students of other faiths may use the room at the same time or at other times during the week. Liberty High School’s policy should be neutral toward religion.”
In response, Lyon expressed confusion after Paxton’s acknowledgement that the school district is complying with state and federal laws and laws on freedom of religion.
“However, your letter to me begins by indicating it was written following an ‘initial inquiry’ that ‘left several questions unresolved.’ What initial inquiry are you referring to?” Lyon’s 2-page letter states. “To Frisco ISD’s knowledge, it has not received any inquiry from the OAG [Office of the Attorney General] on this issue. Frisco ISD requests documentation of any and all efforts by the OAG to contact the District prior to your office issuing its ‘Press Release’ to the media.”
Lyon said he learned about Paxton’s letter through the media on Friday. He told Paxton the district is in compliance with the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires it not to “substantially burden” a person’s free exercise of religion unless the burden is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”
“Recent quotes from the OAG’s office indicate the OAG firmly supports the Act and its enforcement,” Lyon wrote. “The letter from your office ignores the District’s obligations in this regard. Confusingly, however, the OAG’s office applauds the Frisco ISD’s ‘willingness to guarantee the freedom of student-led religious groups’ which is exactly what is required under the Act.”
Lyon notes that an interview with Liberty High School Principal Scott Warstler that Paxton cites in his letter stated there have been no issues with the room for more than seven years.
“It is important to note 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,” Lyon wrote.
Paxton’s concerns also were disputed by Frisco ISD spokesman Chris Moore, who told The Dallas Morning News on Friday that the prayer room is open to all students and the district welcomes an open discussion about the room.
Liberty provided an empty classroom for Muslim students who previously had to miss hours of school each week and pray at the mosque several miles away.
Frisco is about 30 miles north of downtown Dallas.
From Courthouse News.