AUSTIN – In a letter today to the superintendent of the Austin Independent School District, Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office cautioned the school district against changing its facilities use policy to ban churches with traditional Christian beliefs from renting its facilities after school and on weekends.
Current Austin ISD policy expressly permits churches to rent school facilities on the same terms as all community organizations. However, several members of the Austin ISD’s Board of Trustees are on record saying they’re against renting the Performing Arts Center to Georgetown-based Celebration Church because it holds the traditional religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“The district should welcome churches who want to rent its facilities after school and on weekends, not discriminate against some of them based on their beliefs,” reads the letter from First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer to Austin ISD Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz. “The Constitution and state law require the district to provide churches with equal access to facilities it opens to community organizations. The district should reject the calls of its trustees to alter the facility use policies, and maintain its longstanding cooperative relationship with churches in the community.”
Recent news reports indicate that Austin ISD officials are finalizing changes to the district’s regulations governing outside use of its facilities, including the Performing Arts Center, which is currently rented to Celebration Church on Sundays.
The letter from the attorney general’s office warns the school district that the proposed actions are not neutral toward religion, and violate the First Amendment and Texas’ Religious Freedom Restoration Act: “We caution you to reconsider these changes and be respectful of the religious liberty protections afforded churches under the Constitution and Texas law.”