by Max Brantley
It sounds like the Department of Human Services has sent another hot potato to Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. Given his anticipated run for governor in 2014, I'm not at all easy about how this could turn out.
State Rep. Justin Harris, who gets around $850,000 a year
almost $1 million a year in public money to operate his Growing God's Kingdom preschool in West Fork, said on his Facebook account last night:
Update on teaching Christ at our preschool. It has been sent over to the Attorney General's Office for a legal opinion. Not sure what the opinion can be, seeing that there are no regulation in Arkansas about teaching Jesus in private schools that receive some funding from the state. More to come, I have a feeling this could be a long drawn out process.
There is no doubt that the publicly funded school teaches a Bible class and otherwise infuses everything from bulletin boards to parent handbooks with Christian teaching. A private school has EVERY right to do that. A school operated with public money does not. The controlling law in the 8th Circuit, which includes Arkansas, is Americans United for Separation of Church and State (which has complained about Arkansas's tax support for Harris' Bible instruction) and the Prison Fellowship Ministries in Iowa. There, as here, religious instruction can "reasonably be attributed" to public dollars and the entanglement of religion in a state-financed service is extensive.
Harris argue parents can go elsewhere. Or the kids can go sit in a corner or something while Bible classes are underway. Should Harris prevail in his state-supported Bible classes, I'd encourage every religious school in Arkansas to troop down to DHS for a handout. I don't think that's the Constitutional or American way. But the times are a-changing, aren't they?
I can't remind enough how DHS has fallen down on the job in this matter by failing for years to comply with the clear dictates of state law that require regular inspections to be sure state money isn't being used for sectarian purposes, as Harris does.