Frisco ISD Fights Back on Ken Paxton’s Claims About Muslim Prayer Room

Paxton defends questioning Muslim prayer room on ”Fox and Friends.”

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Religion and politics seem inescapably intertwined this year. In the latest case, Attorney General Ken Paxton warned Frisco ISD that it might be violating the separation of church and state by having a prayer room for Muslim students at a high school. Frisco fought back on Friday with a warning to Paxton: In the current political atmosphere, he might be endangering the district’s faculty, staff, and students—implying the possibility of anti-Muslim violence. Unmoved, Paxton went on “Fox and Friends” Monday to claim his office had not heard back from Frisco.

The Frisco controversy began with a student news story at the Liberty High School broadcast site Wingspan (a nod to Rocky, the school’s red hawk mascot). According to Wingspan, room C112 is used as a prayer room during lunches. Students have been praying at school for about seven years without complaint or incident.

“This is my seventh year at Liberty, my first year it kind of started when a core group of students were leaving campus every Friday for Friday prayer,” Principal Scott Warstler said. “Their parents would come pick them up, so they may miss an hour and a half to two hours to two and a half hours of school every Friday, so I met with those students and a couple of their parents and suggested if they would be okay if the students were able to lead the prayer at school as a group, and we gave them a space to do that so they didn’t have to be in a car traveling thirty minutes each way on a Friday missing an hour, hour and a half, of class.”

Warstler went on to say students of other religions also hold prayer groups at the school.

“Like I’ve said, this is the seventh year that we’ve been doing this and we’ve never had one issue. You know we have  other religious student groups that meet maybe before school or maybe after school. As long as it’s student-led, where the students are organizing and running it, we pretty much as a school stay out of that and allow them their freedom to practice their religion.”

Paxton’s first assistant attorney general, Jeff Mateer, is the former general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a non-profit dedicated to suing to protect religious freedom. And, as the Washington Post noted, Paxton went to court last year to force a Killeen school to allow a nurse’s aide to put a poster on her door of A Charlie Brown Christmas that included a biblical passage about the birth of Christ. But a Muslim prayer room, apparently, was too much for Paxton’s office.

In a letter to Frisco ISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon, Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie wrote that the prayer room may violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment by excluding students of other faiths from the room. The letter said Paxton obtained his information from the student news story, although the student story contained no mention of others being excluded from the room. Paxton’s news release on Friday stated:

Recent news reports have indicated that the high school’s prayer room is dedicated to students who practice Islam, while apparently excluding students of other faiths. “Liberty High School’s policy should be neutral toward religion,” reads the letter from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie to Frisco ISD Superintendent Jeremy Lyon. “However, it appears that students are being treated different based on their religious beliefs. Such a practice, of course, is irreconcilable with our nation’s enduring commitment to religious liberty.”

Using language much like that of the First Liberty Institute, Leonie described freedom of religion as the “first liberty,” because it is the first freedom mention in the First Amendment. On Twitter, Leonie describes himself as a “Deplorable & Irredeemable Texas Christian Tea Party Republican Constitutionalist Conservative Libertarian & Government Lawyer & Judge.”

Governor Greg Abbott backed Paxton up with a Friday tweet that read: “The Texas Attorney General is looking into the Public School Prayer Room issue many of you have questioned.”

Frisco fired back, with a letter from Lyon to Leonie saying first and foremost, no one had questioned the room except Paxton’s office.

However, your letter to me begins by indicating it is written following an “initial inquiry” that “left several questions unresolved.” What initial inquiry are you referring to? To Frisco ISD’s knowledge, it has not received any inquiry from the OAG 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. Absent such evidence, this “Press Release” appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a non-issue.

Lyon said the district has a legal obligation to try to accommodate students’ religious practices so long as they are student led. “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.

Lyon’s letter did not dissuade Paxton. As we noted in “The Televangelism of Ken Paxton” last year, when his back is to the wall, Paxton takes to the airwaves. He appeared Monday morning on “Fox and Friends” in a segment called “Trouble with Schools” to promote the idea that the prayer room discriminates against students of other faiths.

Paxton lived in Frisco for many years and was among the founders of a fundamentalist Christian church there before moving to McKinney. He is tentatively scheduled to go on trial in Collin County on May 1 on a third-degree felony charge of failing to register as a securities dealer when he was in private practice as an attorney. Prosecutors in the case have accused Paxton’s legal team of trying to generate publicity to influence the local jury pool to his favor.

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  • roadgeek

    This really seems much ado about nothing, provided Christians and other groups were given the same access to school facilities as the Muslims. AG Paxton needs to find another hobby-horse to ride. My only concern would be if the Frisco ISD decided that they needed that room for some other function, such as classroom space, and the Muslims resisted giving it up; that would be a problem. Hopefully, allowing the Muslims to use the room was made conditional on the school’s need for the room.

    • dave in texas

      Well, I’m upvoting this for common sense, but I still stand by my critical comment above.

    • FlushRyan

      Christian Groups are not allowed to meet during the school day, as the Muslim students are allowed to do. Christian Groups meet before school or after school hours. The district should consider changing the school hours or allow all students to be dismissed from class. There is little doubt this is a unfair burden on other students who need to make special arrangements to arrive before school or stay after school, but one group is given special permission during class.

      • WUSRPH

        If a basic principle of their religion required prayer at set times I am certain arrangements would be made for the Christians too……

      • José

        But you’d be OK if we changed the school week and make it Sunday-Thursday? That would be better for two out of the three monotheistic religions. Us Christians would have to meet outside of school hours or skip church altogether but, oh well.

  • roadgeek

    I voted for Ken Paxton, but more and more I’m regretting my vote, although I wasn’t given many better choices. It’s unclear to me how shrewd an attorney he might be, but he’s terrible at picking his battles. This is not a hill I would have chosen to die on.

    • roadgeek

      I regret my vote for Sid Miller more, however. He’s just a clown.

    • dave in texas

      Weren’t given many better choices? I’m calling BS on that one. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess you voted for admitted felon Paxton over the much more highly qualified Dan Branch in the primary. And that you then voted for the I’m-not-going-to-campaign-because-of-the-indictments-hanging-over-my-head Paxton over the much more highly qualified Sam Houston, who has long been known for his integrity and support for government transparency. What ever happened to “the party of personal responsibility?” Right-wingers need to acknowledge that they’re the reason we have incompetents like Ken Paxton and Sid Miller in office.

      • roadgeek

        I’d have voted for a Democrat, but John Sharp wasn’t running and Nelda Wells-Spears has retired. Miller can’t do a lot of damage in his current office, so I don’t over it too much. Your party has moved too far to the left, and I simply can’t stomach the sacrificial lambs you keep nominating. Most other Texans can’t either, apparently.

        It’s possible that the men you mentioned would have done a fine job, but as I survey the political landscape nationwide, and see what happens to city, county and state governments dominated by Democrats for any length of time, I find that I don’t want that for myself or Texas, which explains my voting patterns. These men might swear an oath to the Texas Constitution, but their first loyalty would always be to the Democratic Party, which i find distasteful.

        • dave in texas

          That’s reasonable, although I could make the same argument that one-party dominance by Republicans isn’t any piece of cake, either, and that your party has moved so far to the right as to almost fall off the chart. One need look no further than the disaster that is Kansas to prove the one-party dominance point. I would also say that fealty to party over state/country is equally, if not more, of a problem within GOP ranks as it is in the Democrats’, and Ken Paxton is example number one. The man was facing a certain felony indictment and had already pleaded guilty to charges. That’s really not a good look for the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

          • roadgeek

            I concede your point regarding Ken Paxton. As I stated before, I find myself regretting my vote more and more.

    • Pamela Curry

      There was a far superior choice on the ballot than the zealot and criminal Ken Paxton

  • WUSRPH

    Abbott had to jump on the bandwagon to prove he’s as anti-Muslim and pro-Christian as Paxton. The man has little shame. Paxton, of course, has none.

  • BCinBCS

    Oh my goodness, Ken Paxton and Donald Trump suffer from the same mental defect – when proven wrong, they simply ignore the truth and double down.

  • José

    These are the same people who complain when schools won’t allow their kids to proselytize fundamentalist Christianity in the playgrounds. These are the same people who throw tantrums when they can’t force teachers to lead students in Christian prayer during class time. These are the same people who claim injury when schools decide not to include sacred Christian music in its concerts and programs. These are the same people who cry censorship when schools refuse to display portraits of Jesus Christ.

    This is about religious freedom only in the sense that they want to deny the freedom and equal rights to members of other faiths. Shame.

    • FlushRyan

      No other group of students are given permission to meet during class time. All other groups must meet before or after school hours.

      • José

        The school is making adjustments so that students will spend MORE time in school, not less. I think that’s great. Don’t you?

        Maybe you’d have a more valid point by asking why the school doesn’t take a harder line against the students wanting to pray once a week. I mean, if those Muslims would agree to pray on Sundays like good normal Christians then everything would be good. But it’s been my observation that secular public schools are pretty reasonable about religious accommodations, and that includes Christianity when the situation arises. Can you cite an example to the contrary? I cant. Some kids take time off on Good Friday for mass, assuming that the school hasn’t cancelled classes outright. And back in my childhood, pre-Vatican II, our cafeteria always served fish sticks on Fridays in deference to the Catholics. The school calendar is conveniently arranged to have breaks around Christmas and often Easter as well. Eid, not so much.

        FISD should be praised for a win-win arrangement that promotes public education and religious freedom, with a minimum of fuss. Unless someone is dead set on creating a fuss, of course.

      • I’ve worked at companies that had muslim prayer rooms and the muslims always allowed non-muslims to use their space (ie: Eastern Orthodox Christians who also do hourly prayers). But humor me, which other group of students practice hourly prayers are being forced to do so before and after school?

  • donuthin2

    We need more in schools systems like the principal at Frisco. He is rational and refuses to be bullied by the goofy AG. He is setting a great example for the students. He is not allowing the imposition of anyone religion on anyone else. He gets it.

  • BCinBCS

    This is OT to the Frisco fiasco but one of the things that I learned from Comey’s testimony Monday is that the FBI launched its investigation into possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials back in July. Yes, the July before the November presidential election – you know, the investigation where Comey dropped an October surprise about Huma Abedin’s e-mails that might contain illegal, classified information but actually didn’t but conveniently didn’t say a word about the Trump/Bannon investigation.

    What a double standard.

    • José

      Incredible. Astounding. Crazy inconsistency. Back in the Bush administration I really admired Comey for the way he defied the dark forces of Cheney and Addington by standing up to Alberto Gonzales in AG Ashcroft’s hospital room late one night. He seemed a real man of character. So why did he screw up so badly last fall by talking about ongoing investigations? Twice? There must be a darned interesting story that’s yet to be told.

  • shoplocal

    All schools with any heart do this. I have sponsored the Muslim Student Association, Teens for Christ and the Jewish Student Association. The school gives them ALL a place to meet, talk, study and pray.

    • FlushRyan

      Before and after school hours. Not during class

      • SpiritofPearl

        The principal doesn’t agree with you.

      • shoplocal

        It’s during the day — not during class.

      • Pamela Curry

        What part of during lunch time did you not understand.

  • Marvel

    Seven years without incident until this odious, demagogic, political animal Paxton opts to create a spectacle for his bottom-feeding constituents to express their outrage. When will enough Texans come to their senses and finally throw out of office these teabilly taliban, duplicitous, embarrassing morons like Paxton, Abbott and Patrick?!

  • FlushRyan

    Other religious groups are not allowed to gather during school hours. The Christian group must meet before school or after school.

    • SpiritofPearl

      Not true. The principal says Christian groups and other use the room.

    • Hey dipshit, Christians are welcome to use a muslim prayer room.