by Max Brantley
Open to your comments. Closing out:
* CHEERS, BENTON COUNTY: Legal beer sales began in Benton County today. 40/29 notes for posterity that a six-pack sold at a Kum and Go was apparently the first legal sale since voters took the county wet in November and opened the county to retail sales at places other than private clubs.
* NO CHEERS FOR NOTRE DAME: This piece rips Notre Dame for rushing to make excuses for its linebacker with the fictitious girlfriend, but shabby treatment for a young woman who alleged a sexual assault by a member of the Fighting Irish football team.
* EQUITY EFFORT DELAYED: A group hoping to circulate a petition for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Arkansas constitutional ban on same-sex marriage delayed a news conference planned today to submit the measure to the attorney general's office for approval as to form. I understand the delay was to do a little more coalition building among the variety of groups interested in the topic.
* AND ANOTHER DELAY, THE LITTLE ROCK HOMELESS CENTER: Little Rock officials had indicated earlier they expected a decision by Wednesday from the Union Rescue Mission on whether it would pursue a contract with the city to operate the coming city homeless day center on Confederate Boulevard. The ACLU and others have criticized a city expenditure of $300,000 for the Union Rescue Mission to hire staff since it was learned that an advertisment for the jobs said that only evangelical Christians need apply. Assistant City Manager Bryan Day said today he'd been told by Rescue Mission board members that they wouldn't meet on the matter until next week.
* SPEAKING OF THE ACLU: The organization is stirring up a campaign to write Sen. Jeremy "Gator Bait" Hutchinson about his bill to drug test people seeking unemployment benefits.
Requiring people who are out of work, and are seeking unemployment benefits— benefits they have paid for over their career and are due—to submit to a drug test is an unreasonable search under the 4th Amendment. Why further humiliate people who are already facing hardship due to lack of work? It is not a crime to be out of a job. Call or email Sen. Hutchinson, your Senator, and members of the Senate Public Health Committee and ask them to VOTE NO on SB38!
* GUN NUTTERY: THE SEARCH FOR SPECIFICS: U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton of the Club for Growth's D.C. clubhouse sent an email today about "the president trying to bypass Congress and use executive orders to implement gun-control measures." Cotton said he was fighting to protect constitutional rights, even if it meant going on Sean Hannity's show to do it. So I asked Cotton's office for specifics about where the president's executive orders ran afoul of the Constitution. Support for police resource officers in school? More research? Stricter recordkeeping and enforcement of existing laws? No response so far. (In truth, Cotton's got nothing on this, except the fallback argument that there's no way to stop homicidal maniacs with guns by law, so why try?)
* GUN NUTTERY: LET US STUDY: I wonder if Tom Cotton really thinks it's unconstitutional for President Obama to order more research into health implications of guns. That's moving forward. Arkansas Business examines that issue and a topic we've mentioned before — former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey's welcome change of heart on the question of the government supporting gun research.
* GUN NUTTERY: LET US PRAY: Republican Bryan King (early contender for worst-of-worst) is back with a bill to allow guns in church. How about guns in the legislature? Please, don't tell Bryan King about South Dakota, where Repubs have crafted a bill to put secretly armed people in schools.
* AND SPEAKING OF PRAYER: It's a rare year that passes without some tension in Conway about the influence of the city's many robust churches on the public school system, typically involving sex education. Now the Freedom From Religion Foundation has raised a concern with the Conway School District about visits to the Carl Stuart Middle School at lunch hour by a youth pastor. Said its letter:
It is inappropriate and unconstitutional for Conway Public Schools to offer Christian ministers unique access to befriend and proselytize students during the school day on school property. This practice is especially concerning if it occurs on a regular basis. No outside adults should be provided carte blanche access to minors in a public school. this predatory conduct is inappropriate and should raise many red flags.
It's unclear who's visiting the school. The letter refers to the New Life Church in Conway, but a spokesman there said it didn't have a school outreach program. Patrick Elliott, staff attorney for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said in a phone interview that he'd been told the visitor was from K-Life, a Conway Christian ministry. It is not affiliated with New Life, the New Life spokesman said. K-Life's stated aims include to "teach and encourage kids to be strong in the Lord."
I eventually had a nice chat with Anderson Wilkins, director of K-Life, and Jeff Standridge, chair of the organization's board. It has been visiting Conway schools for years, as have pastors from a number of other religious groups, they said. But K-Life only socializes with existing members and doesn't recruit, they said. They said Conway Superintendent Greg Murry had suspended non-parental visits on campus last month in response to the complaint from the foundation and met with the groups today to explain his fact-finding process. He confirmed that to me later saying that, while the district had been comfortable with the propriety of past non-parent visiting policies, he wanted to make sure the district was within the parameters of what was allowable. He said he didn't have a timetable for the review and a recommendation to the School Board on whether the rules needed to be changed and visits curtailed. Wilkins and Standridge said, for their part, that some misinformation had circulated in Conway and that they thought Murry had acted appropriately and they were comfortable with his desire to have a careful review. To those who said that the socializing done by visitors might amount to recruiting, Murry said: "It is not our intent to allow individuals to come into our buildings to recruit for their particular religious organization." Standridge said K-Life does not recruit or proselytize. "We come to have lunch and build existing relationships with existing participants." Murry said he couldn't estimate how many religious groups made such visits to Conway schools. "More than two."
UPDATE: A Conway parent says she's observed K-Life representatives walking through one Conway school cafeteria "recruiting kids," however.