Paxton's prayer-room query raises questions

SMU Theology Professor Robert Hunt talks about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asking whether a Frisco school kept non-Muslim students from praying in an empty classroom

By John Austin
CNHI State Reporter

AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has quit asking whether a Frisco school kept non-Muslim students from praying in an empty classroom, but faith leaders are still questioning his motives.

In a statement, Paxton on Monday said that he was “grateful” for Frisco ISD’s prompt response to his queries, adding that, “they assured us today that students of all faiths, or no faith, may now use this meeting room during non-instructional time on a first-come, first-served basis for student-led activities.”

The issue went public last week when Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie wrote to Jeremy Lyon, Frisco’s superintendent, saying that, “it appears that students are being treated differently based on their religious beliefs.”

In reply, Lyon wrote a letter to say that the district hadn’t been queried about students’ use of the room before Paxton issued a press release, which Lyon called a “publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a non-issue.”

But while Paxton’s queries uncovered no violation of religious liberty, the controversy does speak volumes about the state of faith and politics in Texas, both Christians and Muslims said.

“Conservative Christians in Texas see themselves as an embattled minority that believes it needs to throw out its arms and establish its place,” said Robert A. Hunt, director of global theological education at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. “They behave as if they’re the minority that has to fight for its rights.” . . . 

Hunt said Paxton had, in the Frisco incident, gone “fishing for controversy” without having any evidence.

The troubling thing, Hunt said, is that while Frisco is a well-heeled school district that can afford attorneys, less-wealthy districts might not be able to contest the Texas Attorney General.

“Non-evidence-based inquiries are odd,” Hunt said. “This is a dangerous trend.”

Hunt also said that it’s “interesting” that Paxton focused on a school district that covers part of Collin County, where he is scheduled to go to trial on financial fraud-related charges in May to make charges that draw a “sense of cultural anxiety.”

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