Arkansas state representative Justin Harris owns a preschool named Growing God’s Kingdom. It’s a clearly sectarian school designed to proselytize and convert young children to Christianity. It has also received over a million dollars in state funding since 2005. (LINK)
Staff members are required to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operates with a Christian curriculum that includes a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The handbook assures parents that staff members will “strive too [sic] ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, will be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.”
To say that this is a bald faced slap in the face of the constitution is to understate the matter. To say that it’s a politician using his power to help himself to state funds is obvious. The thing that’s awful about this story is Rep. Harris’s transparent attempt to feign ignorance of the law. “You understand that you are going to get exposed to Christianity throughout the day,” he said, “or just by saying, ‘Hey, you know, Jesus loves you.’
Um… No. If you’re walking down the street and someone says “Hey, you know, Jesus loves you,” you’re being exposed to Christianity through the day. If you are taken by your parent to an institution you’re required to be at, forced to listen to Bible verses over the intercom, forced to participate in prayers, and taught the “word of God” so that you can “spread it to others,” you are being actively indoctrinated. If it is being done with state money, then the state is actively indoctrinating you.
And that is… you know… completely unconstitutional. It’s a return to precisely the kind of government that the founding fathers were trying to avoid. (LINK) Remember that from grade school? You know? The whole thing where the Pilgrims were trying to escape religious tyranny?
Harris’s story is that he’s been blissfully unaware. “[He] has said he thought religious displays are permitted if paid for with private money.” (LINK) If this is true, then it’s unconscionable that he is a legislator. The much more likely scenario is that he knows perfectly well what he’s been doing is illegal, and doesn’t care. If that’s the case, then it’s unconscionable that he is a legislator.
As a second line of defense, he’s claiming that the grant doesn’t specifically say teaching religion would be a violation. “[A lawyer] said she hasn’t found language in grant documents clarifying to schools they can’t teach religion.” Well… that might be true, but I suppose the documents also didn’t mention teachers beating the childen with baseball bats, or forcing them to manufacture meth in the school basement. It is not the job of the state to remind grant recipients of each and every illegal activity that would invalidate the grant. The grant didn’t write the constitution, and the law exists regardless of whether it was specifically mentioned. It’s not rocket science.
The final kick in the teeth is that even if Harris somehow missed the First Amendment in his High School civics class, he ought to be aware of the Arkansas Constitution, which adds even more clarity to the separation of church and state.
In Article II, Sec. 24, it insists that “no man can, of right, be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship; or to maintain any ministry against his consent.” Article XIV, Sec. 2 reemphasizes that point, barring the using of the public school fund “for any other than the respective purposes to which it belongs.” (LINK)
There is simply no excuse for this. Let’s be completely clear: An elected official has blatantly violated not only the U.S. Constitution, but the Constitution of the state he represents. Beyond that, he has misappropriated a million dollars in state funds for his own benefit. Nothing short of impeachment will satisfy the demands of fair governance. After impeachment, criminal proceedings must follow. This man is a criminal. He is yet another Christian who shows utter disregard for the law of the land when it interferes with his personal agenda. He is a traitor to his state and his country.