by Max Brantley
A few thoughts after reading today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
* RUNNING GOVERNMENT LIKE A BUSINESS: I was a touch surprised that no news organization, including the daily newspaper — which has covered the subject extensively in the past — picked up the news reported here yesterday that a taxpayer lawsuit now seems likely to end the practice of state legislators supplementing their paychecks unconstitutionally with undocumented expense reimbursements. A proposed settlement between the plaintiffs (including me) and the state defendants, represented by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, has been finalized and will be reviewed April 3 by Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.
* A BRIDGE TOO FEW: An article discussed planning steps being taken in Little Rock and North Little Rock to establish a path for a fourth Arkansas River bridge in downtown Little Rock, a crossing at Chester Street. This is an outgrowth of the calamity that will be visited on the two cities when and if the Broadway Bridge is closed for two years for reconstruction. I'd like to brag that I suggested the Chester Street bridge solution last November. One further comment: The article reiterates the Highway and Transportation Department's complaint that the Broadway Bridge must be replaced because its concrete composition makes it more expensive than average to maintain. Annual maintenance costs are averaging $86,000 a year. to avoid that exorbitant rate, the state is prepared to spend $58 million to replace the bridge and disrupt downtown traffic — at untold cost to businesses and commuters. At $86,000 a year, the new bridge will pay for itself in 674 years.
* CHURCH AND STATE: I appreciated the daily newspaper's update on comments filed in the Department of Human Services' proposed rules to ensure that state law and the Constitution are followed by pre-schools that receive tax money. At least two of them operated by Republican legislators Justin Harris and Johnny Key have incorporated religious ritual and symbolism in their taxpayer-funded pre-schools — Growing God's Kingdom and Noah's Ark. The state turned a blind eye to this until Americans United for Separation of Church and State complained and it has now written rules meant to give these institutions wiggle room to proselytize. They are going through a public hearing process.
The religionists' comments are offensive to the Constitution, naturallly, but they are revealing. Justin Harris suggests it's discrimination against him to prevent taxpayer-financed religious instruction. How? The only discrimination is turning a blind eye in Protestant-dominated Arkansas to unconstitutional practices by those who use tax money to carry on the majority religion. There isn't a minute of the day spent by Harris' children in his state-financed facility — before, during or after the prescribed seven-hour period of Arkansas Better Chance-financed instruction — that isn't subsidized by tax dollars.
More striking was the comment from a Clarksville woman who said this of a rule to separate religion from publicly financed school programs:
“It’s coercion, causing me to have to choose between receiving these benefits and practicing my faith."
Really? Her faith requires public religious instruction at all hours of the day, financed by the state and forced upon a captive audience that might include those who practice different faiths? She's unable to give (presumably) Christian witness in word and deed without religious instruction and to reserve public ritual for church, home and other places outside the publicly financed sector? I'm afraid that this IS the belief of the Justin Harrises of the world. They want to cram religion down the throats of others. Which is why we need a Constitution. And why we need a state government willing to enforce it, which Mike Beebe's DHS has been exceedingly reluctant to do.