Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lied about a school providing a Muslim-only classroom

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lied about a school providing a Muslim-only classroom
Source: AP
Source: AP

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is in hot water for falsely accusing a high school in the greater Dallas area of being anti-Christian by allowing Muslim students to pray in an empty classroom. 

On Friday, Paxton wrote an open letter to Liberty High School claiming that it had violated the First Amendment since the school did not open the classroom's prayer space to all students, the Independent reported.

"It appears that the prayer room is 'dedicated to the religious needs of some students' — namely, those who practice Islam," Paxton, with the support of Gov. Greg Abbott, wrote. "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."

It turns out Paxton's allegations are not true. Jeremy Lyon, Frisco Independent School District superintendent, responded in a statement released Friday explaining that the classroom is open to all students. Lyon also reassured Paxton and other concerned citizens that Liberty High School was complying with both federal and state laws — including Texas's Freedom Restoration Act. The Freedom Restoration Act requires schools and institutions to not suppress or burden an individual's right to exercise religious freedom.

"The District is prohibited from failing to reasonably accommodate and/or discriminating against these students because their religion dictates the time and manner of their prayer," Lyon wrote. "Ironically, it appears your office did not notice further examples of accommodations at Liberty High School provided to students of other religious groups. In particular, the article cites a student, who was the president of the school's Bible study group, who organized a forum on religious diversity. The student provides meaningful insight regarding the need for tolerance and understanding."

Lyon also said that the prayer room was created to accommodate students who would have to miss two hours of class time to commute once a week to and from prayer services. According to Lyon, the prayer room allows students to come in for a few minutes during their lunch breaks to make their daily prayers.

Ken Paxton
Source: 
Eric Gay/AP

The Council of American Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil advocacy organization in the United States, called Paxton's open letter was an "cheap Islamophobic publicity stunt."

"Attorney General Ken Paxton's office appears to have made its ill-informed statements without first contacting school officials," a statement from CAIR's Texas chapter read, according to the Independent. "That apparent lack of interest in the facts of this case would seem to confirm suspicions that the 'concerns' about Muslim prayers have less to do with religious neutrality and more to do with exploiting growing Islamophobia in our state and nationwide."

The First Amendment has been a frequent area of concern for Paxton. In December 2016, Paxton sued a middle school principal to keep a Bible quote on the door of a classroom under what he labeled as "anti-Christian discrimination." But Paxton's lambasting of a high school for providing Muslim students a space to pray seems to make his case for religious freedom insincere.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Sarah A. Harvard

Sarah is a staff writer covering religion, race and politics. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Slate, The Huffington Post, TeenVogue, and VICE. Send tips and feedback: sharvard@mic.com

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