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Texas AG Says Austin School District Must Rent Facility to Anti-LGBTQ Church

Ken Paxton's office claims officials can't discriminate based on religious beliefs.

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The Texas Attorney General’s Office on Friday, Sept. 21 warned the Austin Independent School District not to make a policy change that could prevent a local church from renting a school facility for Sunday sermons.

Under a short-term rental agreement, the district has been renting out its Performing Arts Center in East Austin to the Georgetown-based Celebration Church since Aug. 26. Last month, protesters gathered outside the venue waving pride flags and calling on Austin ISD not to rent to a church that opposes gay marriage.

First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer wrote in a letter to Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz that “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.”

District officials told the Austin American-Statesman they are finalizing two changes that would limit the use of its facilities — but the policy is not meant to target against any particular entity, one told the Statesman.

“We want to ensure we are keeping [the facility] open for students and schools and not eliminating their opportunity to utilize it,” district Chief of Staff Jacob Reach told the Statesman this week.

First Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer wrote in a letter to Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz that “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.”

“The Constitution and state law require the district to provide churches with equal access to facilities it opens to community organizations,” Mateer said. “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.”

The district said Friday that it is continuing to review its facilities policies and “no final determinations have been made.”

School board Trustee Ann Teich told the Statesman she is against “renting to any entity that doesn’t support our values … and that’s full inclusion of our LGBTQ community.”

The tangle comes amid a long-running feud between the liberal capital city and the Republican-dominated state government. The Attorney General’s Office is involved in several other legal challenges to the city, including one over its paid sick leave policy and one over its limitations on short-term rentals.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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