A classroom used as a prayer room at Liberty High School in Frisco got the attention of the Texas attorney general’s office last week. The office sent a letter raising constitutional concerns about the room. The Frisco superintendent called the letter a "publicity stunt" and said the prayer room has been in use for several years without complaints.
Prayer rooms are just one way public schools in Frisco and across Texas accommodate students and religion.
. . . “You may hear it said sometimes that prayer’s been kicked out of public schools,” said Joy Baskin, director of legal services with the Texas Association of School Boards.
“In fact, what has been determined by the courts is that schools can’t compel prayer.”
Baskin said prayer rooms in schools are acceptable and legal under the First Amendment. Schools can also give students time to pray, whether it’s during free time or a lunch period. They can give students passes to leave class to pray or leave campus for religious education.
“It’s a concept that courts have looked at for many years,” Baskin said. “It’s called 'release time,' and it’s the idea that in order to follow a tenet of faith, the student is briefly excused. It’s an opportunity to have an excused absence in order to follow a tenet of faith.”
- Straus condemns "bathroom bill," talks local control.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday gave perhaps his harshest condemnation yet of the controversial “bathroom bill” championed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Straus said the bill, which has drawn the ire of Texas businesses and been criticized as discriminatory against transgender people, felt “manufactured and unnecessary.”
“If we’ve gotten to the point in our civilization, in our society, that our politicians have to pass bills about bathroom stuff ... I mean, we’ve gotten really out of control,” he said.
"For it to get this much attention in a legislative session is astounding to me," he added.
- State lawmakers concerned over TABC expenditures, antiquated alcohol laws.
Isaac has been working for two sessions to level the liquor playing field in Texas, but he said he's been blocked by the alcohol industry's grip on the Legislature. Isaac added that TABC officials who enforce Texas’s antiquated liquor laws benefit from keeping those laws in place.
Isaac filed HB 4233 on March 10 in an attempt to eliminate provisions in the Alcoholic Beverage Code that prohibit publicly traded companies from selling liquor in Texas and limit liquor store owners to five stores. He said he’s not incredibly optimistic about the bill’s chances, though; he filed the same bill last session but did not even get a hearing.
“The ones that are in power have an incredible stranglehold on the Legislature, leading to protecting their business interests, rather than protecting consumers or the free markets,” Isaac said. “I would love to get a hearing in the licensing committee. It’s not been referred yet, but that’s where it went last year. I’d love to get a chance to talk about it.”
Right now, a publicly traded company cannot sell liquor in Texas, but privately-owned companies can — the only such law in the nation. Privately owned companies such as Spec’s are discouraged from going public by this provision, Isaac said.
“If they wanted to grow, and raise capital with an initial public offering, they would have to cease doing business in the state of Texas,” Isaac said.
HB 4233 also would eliminate the five-store limitation. Isaac said a loophole in the law allows large families to exceed that limit by letting each family member put five stores in their names — which he said isn't fair to smaller families.
- Liquor regulators acknowledge Rangers haven't cleared them.
After state liquor regulators got hit with a complaint last year that it violated its own rules when it served alcohol without a permit at a state convention, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said it conducted a thorough investigation, determined no permits were needed and then forwarded its findings to the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers, in turn, decided no further action was warranted, TABC officials claimed.
That story fell apart on Friday.
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission now acknowledges the Rangers never got the investigative report, and the Ranger who interacted with the agency called the agency’s assertion a “mistake.” Meanwhile, a newly-obtained internal email discussing the liquor service at the convention raises new questions about whether rules were broken.