Capital Highlights: Attorney General intervenes in ‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ lawsuit

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AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Dec. 15 intervened in a lawsuit filed on behalf of nurse’s aide Dedra Shannon against the Killeen Independent School District over its decision to take down Shannon’s Christmas decoration.

According to a news release by Paxton’s office, the principal of KISD’s Patterson Middle School ordered Shannon to take down a handmade decoration that depicted a scene from the 1965 animated feature, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In the scene, the character Linus is asked by Charlie Brown whether there is “anyone who knows what Christmas is all about.” Shannon’s decoration quoted part of Linus’s response: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord … That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

The school district ordered Shannon to take down her decoration, claiming that it violated the law. Later, school board members voted 6-1 in favor of censoring Shannon’s Charlie Brown Christmas decoration.

The attorney general, however, maintained that the inclusion of Bible verses or religious messages on student or teacher-sponsored holiday decorations does not violate any law.

“Once again, public schools have decided that their commitment to diversity does not extend to Christians,” Paxton said. “Neither faculty nor students shed their constitutional rights when they step inside the schoolhouse door. The law in fact encourages school districts to take an inclusive approach to religious and secular celebrations that are both respectful and accepting of different viewpoints. Killeen ISD made a clear legal error when it decided it had to censor staff member Dedra Shannon’s Christmas decoration simply because it incorporated some religious terminology.”

Safety patrols on duty

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Dec. 19 posted a news release urging drivers to help make the holidays safer by driving sober and using extra caution. 

DPS troopers and local law enforcement officers are combining efforts throughout the holiday weekends, looking for drunken drivers, speeders, seat belt violators and other dangerous roadway behavior.

“By always driving sober, obeying traffic laws, and slowing down or moving over a lane when vehicles are stopped on the side of the road, Texans can help make our roads safer for everyone,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw.

During last year’s eight-day Christmas/New Year holiday enforcement period state troopers made 466 DWI arrests, issued 9,174 speeding citations and 893 seat belt/child safety seat citations, and made 320 fugitive arrests and 286 felony arrests.

TPWD supports proposal

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department on Dec. 14 announced its support of a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove a songbird, the black-capped vireo, from the federal Endangered Species List.

The state agency said its support is based on a decline in threats to the bird, increased bird populations and improved habitat. Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director, explained: “When a species recovers after serious decline, it’s a conservation success story, and this news is a testament to the exemplary stewardship of Texas’ private landowners, research and work of the department, our non-profit partners and universities to responsibly manage and protect vireo habitat across the state.”

When the black-capped vireo was listed in 1987 there were only 350 birds reported. Primary causes for the species’ decline have included habitat loss and nest parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds that dupe the vireos into raising cowbird chicks at the cost of their own young, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Well plugging an issue

One of many topics spotlighted in the energy industry regulating Texas Railroad Commission’s “2016 Year In Review” is the problem of unplugged, abandoned wells.

As stated in the review, “Although the majority of oil and gas wells that are no longer productive are plugged by responsible operators, some are not. Abandoned wells are a great concern to the Commission because they could pose a potential threat to groundwater and public safety. As these wells are identified, the Commission intervenes to safeguard the public and the environment.”

Inspectors locate abandoned wells through routine lease inspections or through landowners’ complaints. The Railroad Commission then investigates ownership of the well to determine if it truly is abandoned. After the Commission deems a well abandoned, inspectors prioritize the well for the state-funded plugging list. 

Since 1984, the RRC has plugged more than 35,000 wells using fees and penalties paid by oil and gas operators through the state’s Oil and Gas Regulation and Cleanup Fund. When possible, the Commission noted, it works with the Texas Attorney General’s Office to recover plugging costs from an operator.

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