State Rep. Justin Harris of West Fork, whose taxpayer-funded daycare’s regular religious instruction led to new rules yesterday from the state Human Services Department, has no intention of removing religion from his program.
He didn’t respond to my e-mail seeking comment, but he told the NWA hybrid newspaper operation that he’ll be happy to tell his teachers to provide religious instruction before or after the seven-hour school day required for state funding. He said he objected to being unable to pray with parents or others who come to school during the day for his counseling. He also isn’t happy about getting unannounced inspections.
This is precisely the loophole I figured he’d exploit in rules issued yesterday by the state and reinforced by DHS answers to questions I posed. DHS says the money it sends to Harris can’t be used for religious instruction. But his private business is welcome to do whatever it wants outside the seven hours of care required under the ABC taxpayer program for daycares. Never mind there’d be no kids, no program, no building without the taxpayer money.
Think about it. What if the extra hours are worked by people whose only source of salary from Harris is the state ABC pay? Can he really argue they are doing this on their own time? Can he make those extra hours a condition of employment? Can he really claim the extended hours provided children enrolled in the program are not supported by the ABC money for the entire time they spend in a facility that wouldn’t exist but for tax money? No, he can’t. But there are now many ways for him to skin the cat and keep the dollars flowing, a half-million from ABC and tens of thousands more from nutrition and other tax-funded programs.
The religionists believe it is their calling to do mission work, with tax money if they can get it. The state of Arkansas has provided them loopholes. The state had already demonstrated its lack of concern for the U.S. Constitution. Its failure to enforce existing — and explicit — state law until Americans United for Separation of Church and State made a complaint about religious instruction is a pretty good measure of how rigorously it is likely to enforce the new rules.
UPDATE: Justin Harris also Twittered today:
Find it curious that current AR Administration is more worried about Jesus being taught than the AR Forestry Comm. Are we going Rogue?
UPDATE II: I heard from Americans United’s staff attorney, Ian Smith, today. He said the proposed rules contained much that was praiseworthy. “Overall, I think they’re pretty good.” But ….. he identified problems, chiefly two I’ve already mentioned. He said the organization hasn’t decided what form its objections will take, whether written comments during the comment period or testimony. He explained that the organization fears the state hasn’t gone far enough to insure public money doesn’t support religious exercises before or after an arbitrary time period and it thinks the law doesn’t allow the posting of religious materials as the state suggests it does. More: