Muslim students at Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas, meet for prayer sessions in a school classroom.

Texas Attorney General and Frisco district spar over high school prayer room

March 20, 2017
State official suggests prayer room unlawfully favors Islamic students, but district says attorney general's inquiry is a publicity stunt.

The Texas Attorney General's office has raised questions about the legality of a Frisco high school providing a prayer room for Islamic students, but Frisco's superintendent says the attorney general's inquiry appears to be a politically motivated publicity stunt.

The controversy involves a prayer room at Liberty High School in Frisco. A March 17 letter to the Frisco Independent School District from Deputy Attorney General Andrew Leonie states that "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."

Frisco School Superintendent Jeremy Lyon responded on March 18 with his own strongly worded letter to Leonie. Leonie had written that his letter was a follow-up to an initial inquiry that left several questions unresolved, but Lyon indicated that the district had no communication with the office of the attorney general (OAG) before the office issued a news release to the media about the prayer room.

"What initial inquiry are you referring to?" Lyon asks. "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."

The attorney general's involvement appears to have its origins in an article and video that appeared on the high school's student news site about the prayer room, which states that the room has been available to students since 2009.

In that article, Liberty Principal Scott Warstler says, "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.”

In his letter, Lyon quotes Warstler about whether all students have access to the prayer room: "“if others wanted to go in and learn and see and experience that, they’re OK with that.”

Without access to a prayer room, Muslim students would have to leave the school for prayer sessions.

"The reason for the prayer room is to accommodate the practices of students who would otherwise miss two hours of class time to travel once a week to and from prayer," Lyon writes in his letter to the OAG. "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 also expressed concern that the OAG letter could needlessly disrupt the learning environment at Liberty High.

"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," the letter says.

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