It’s Ken Paxton versus Catholics, round two. Back in February, the Texas attorney general targeted the migrant shelter Annunciation House, in El Paso, on his stated suspicions of “alien harboring” and “operating a stash house.” He cited no evidence for the latter claim, but demanded that Annunciation House turn over a host of records, including its clients’ names and medical records. Annunciation House, which receives migrants from the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other government agencies and feeds and houses them, refused to turn over all the documents. It argued that Paxton was violating several constitutional protections, including the Catholic organization’s right to free exercise of religion. Instead of waiting for a final ruling on the document request, the attorney general filed for an injunction Wednesday, asking that Annunciation House be forced to cease operations. In the filing, Paxton disputes the organization’s religious-freedom claim because, among other reasons, the organization hasn’t offered mass as frequently as he believes it should (Annunciation House offers mass only when a priest is available) and because staff members and volunteers make no efforts to “evangelize or convert its guests to Catholicism.”

Paxton’s filing is the latest in a series of actions pitting the State of Texas against the federal government over the latter’s handling of border crossings, seen as a winning election-year strategy for those who might wish to earn appointment to high office if Donald Trump were to return to the White House. Previous state actions have included direct confrontation between the U.S. Border Patrol and the Texas Army National Guard over access to the Rio Grande in Eagle Pass. But this time, in El Paso, a religious nonprofit is caught in the middle.

Paxton’s injunction filing is riddled with misinterpretations—oblivious or intentional, who’s to say?—of the stated religious beliefs and practices of a quarter of Texans, including the governor. Take, for example, the attorney general’s further attempt to debunk Annunciation House’s free exercise claim: “Annunciation House’s members appear to subscribe to a more Bohemian set of ‘seven commandments,’ including commandments to ‘visit’ people when ‘incarcerated’ and ‘care [for them] when they’re sick.’ ” 

The quote is referencing testimony by Mary Bull, a longtime staff member at Annunciation House, describing the religious basis of the organization’s mission. She uses the term “commandments” to describe not the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament but rather Jesus’s exhortation in the Gospel of Matthew to feed the hungry and care for the sick. She admits in her testimony that she’s new to Catholicism. Anyone with exposure to the faith can also see in her testimony a reference to the seven principles of Catholic social teaching, taught via the Catechism of the Catholic Church and preached about in homilies around the world. These include elevating the life and dignity of the human person, putting the needs of the poor and most vulnerable first, and building solidarity with a global human family. Each of these principles is based on multiple Christian Scripture passages and is expounded upon extensively in papal documents, such as Pope Francis’s 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship. Catholic bishops, particularly those who serve at the border, have long cited the social teachings as the basis for their efforts to offer hospitality to migrants who arrive in need.

Paxton’s injunction, then, takes issue with the commands of Jesus and Pope Francis, notorious hippies. Chapter 25 of Matthew offers Jesus’s answer to how believers will be judged at the second coming—a passage with which the Southern Baptist attorney general may be familiar. It reads that the inheritors of the kingdom will be those who exhibited these behaviors: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Notably, Jesus does not ask how long it’s been since followers have participated in mass or converted a houseguest to a particular faith.