by Max Brantley
Rep. Justin Harris wants the Arkansas legislature to interpose itself against the Constitution of the U.S. and block a proposed DHS rule that would ban using public money to teach religion in pre-schools. Harris is scoring hundreds of thousands for doing just this and so has Sen. Johnny Key.
Real simple: 1) Harris and Key can take the money and stop teaching religion. 2) They can teach religion and stop taking the money. 3) They can take the money, keep teaching religion, get the state sued and Arkansas pays a ton in attorney fees plus more national embarrassment.
UPDATE: Further fulmination:
* WHAT ABOUT JOHNNY KEY: Sen. Key, whose family rakes in a million or more public dollars at daycares that have included religious exercises, seems to be absent from press coverage of events. Why? Because he's one of the saner members of the Republican delegation? He, too, should be held accountable. Does he contend he may hold religious exercises with public money? Does he oppose the rule?
* WATCH JUSTIN HARRIS: Justin Harris SAYS he won't hold religion instruction until after the 7-hour state-financed school day. Watch him like a hawk. Is he using state-paid employees who receive no other money from him to continue to care for children and read Bible to them? If he is, he's violating the Constitution.
* THE STATE'S FAILURE: Justin Harris tried to set off a witch hunt yesterday — and the D-G took him up on it — to make the story about who called in an outside group over his blatant unconstitutional actions. Matt Campbell called Americans United for Church and State because the state had failed to act. Harris' religious orientation was a well-known fact, often mentioned here. The state Human Services Department and Education Department turned a blind eye. It wouldn't enforce a statute that is on the books to prohibit this. The state needs no rule to enforce the Constitution. This should not be a question about letting American United sue Justin Harris. This should have long ago been open-and-shut. The state should have ceased providing money to religious schools. It didn't. And now Justin Harris wants you to believe he's the damaged party, not the Constitution. Gov. Beebe, DHS, Attorney General McDaniel. Do any of you have any respect for the Constitution? DHS, clearly, has little. It has written the superfluous rules in a way that, without 24-hour monitoring, Harris is almost certain to continue to flout church-state separation. Disappointing. Take the preacher's money away and let him sue Arkansas. An outside agency shouldn't have to carry the ball to get the state to do right.
* THE STATE'S FAILURE II: While it was so busy letting Justin Harris do whatever he wanted at his publicly funded ($800,000 or so counting food and other programs) daycare, DHS apparently wasn't keeping its eye on the ball with a Head Start provider in Russellville, which had to shut temporarily this week because it was out of money. This kind of thing is rarely a one-day hiccup. (This problem is unrelated to Head Start operations based at UAMS in Little Rock.)