In the past week, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton earned national attention from the likes of The Washington Post, Newsweek, and online site The Huffington Post. Too bad it took him an embarrassing episode of baiting of religion and race to get it.
Paxton started the cycle by issuing a letter implying that the Frisco school district was giving special treatment to Muslim students.
Sent on March 17, the letter centered on a "prayer room" at Liberty High School in Frisco, citing "reports [that] indicate the prayer room is not available to students of all faiths," and warning the district that it may be violating the Constitution. His office simultaneously issued a press release, stating that Liberty High School "may violate the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty."
The district maintains that the room has been available to all students, of any religion, for many different reasons for the past seven years. Empty from 2:05 to 2:30 pm daily, it can be used by students for a variety of activities, including praying, studying, or meditating.
Instead of checking with the school district to find out the facts, Paxton threw a public temper tantrum. Sound familiar? I can’t help but wonder if his approach is attempting to mimic Donald Trump.
Paxton got his information re: the Muslim students' use of the room via a student publication, from which he cherry picked details and ignored parts of the story, including the part where it says the classroom is available to all students.
Paxton's assumption of guilt on the part of the school district included publicly requesting they demonstrate their own innocence, without initially giving the school the benefit of doubt privately.
Not having a discussion with the district should be unacceptable behavior from the head of our state's justice department. It’s also curious, considering Paxton was a long-time Frisco resident and one of the founders of the nondenominational evangelical Stonebriar Community Church in town.
The school district was unaware of the situation until they started receiving calls from media. Quick with a response, they called the move a publicity stunt, and fired back on Paxton, stating that "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."
Paxton took his crusade to Fox & Friends, but even the hosts on that conservative TV show didn't seem to buy his claims. "You don’t really have any evidence that people were being excluded, did you?" they asked. "No, actually, we weren't sure," Paxton responded.
Someone needs attention
Over the last several months, Paxton has been making an effort to increase his own visibility.
In July, after a sniper killed five police officers and wounded nine others after a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Paxton drove downtown from his McKinney home to be on the scene. Despite the fact that he had no role in the investigation, he appeared on one national television interview after another.
This year, he has hired two public relations firms to help boost his public image, at a cost of more than $20,000, according to state records.
The timing of this avoidable mayhem with the Frisco school district does not seem coincidental.
Perhaps focusing attention on Liberty High School will distract from Paxton's own upcoming criminal trial. He faces three felony charges, two first-degree and one third-degree, for securities fraud from his work as a lawyer in private practice. He was indicted seven months after taking office, and is the state's first sitting attorney general to be indicted in more than 30 years.
If found guilty, he faces up to 99 years in prison. If convicted, it is not clear if he would be forced from office immediately. While he is expected to lose his law license if guilty, the job of attorney general doesn’t require one to be an attorney, and state law is unclear on whether or not a convicted felon can remain in office.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 20. The trial is slated to start May 1. The trial will be the first time the public gets to hear the details of the case.
Sounds like time for an outrageous tweet.
Rani Cher Monson is a marketing consultant at RainMaking Marketing. She can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter @RaniMonson.