State-paid Bible school 

Church-state disputes arise frequently in Arkansas because we are a state dominated by conservative Christians who believe in evangelism.

The latest on the agenda: Americans United for Separation for Church and State last week wrote state Human Services Department and Education Department officials with concerns about the amount of religion present in Growing God's Kingdom, a West Fork pre-school run by Republican state Rep. Justin Harris.

The school's bulletin boards carry Bible quotes. A Bible lesson is taught daily. Parents and teachers are informed that spreading God's word is a mission of the school.

The state provides more than $500,000 a year to pay the tuition for some 110 students. Harris actually gets a great deal more public money, nearly $900,000 a year counting federal nutrition and other aid.

Harris contends he's gotten the state OK to offer religion, so long as it's outside the 7.5 hours care that he must provide for each publicly paid child and so long as he pays for supplies. Americans United says he's wrong.

A landmark decision in the 8th U.S. Circuit, which covers Arkansas, said a prison ministry in Iowa was unconstitutional because prison expenditures, though for indirect support like housing and equipment, amounted to religious establishment. Harris couldn't operate his school — in a building his family owns and whose expenses are paid with public money — without taxpayer support. Yet, until now, the state has clearly left the impression that if a school teaches Bible outside the grant-required 7.5 hours daily the taxpayer subsidy of building and staff is irrelevant.

The issue is bigger than Justin Harris. Stephens Media reported Monday that state Sen. Johnny Key also gets almost $200,000 in public money a year in support of his Noah's Ark Preschool in Mountain Home, which also provides Bible lessons and daily prayers.

Nearly 300 agencies — many of them with religious roots — receive $100 million a year in public Arkansas Better Chance funding to provide preschool for poor children. Who knows how many teach Bible?

Harris seems determined to be a martyr, so overt his proselytizing. Key, perhaps the most measured Republican in the legislature, is believable when he says the state had signed off.

But the state has had no written guidelines that provide a constitutional path to religious instruction. It has had no legal analysis. What's worse, the state law that authorizes the funding of preschool programs specifically requires an audit of religious recipients to be sure they don't run afoul of the Constitution. There's no record that such an audit has ever been performed. Americans United notes the schools ARE regularly inspected. Surely an inspector at West Fork, while checking the sanitary conditions, happened to glimpse the Bible quotes on the bulletin board or, as last Friday, heard a teacher talking about Samson and Delilah.

A Human Services spokesman says that the issue is now getting a closer look and that it will eventually "issue some guidance." She insists, however, that grantees were always told they "cannot teach a religious curriculum and use state funds to teach and buy material." But they do.

Key spoke honestly when questioned by Stephens Media on whether his school's religious instruction — admittedly mild stuff like being thankful at Thanksgiving — was being funded by tax dollars. "I won't say that it is not," said Key. But he insisted the state approved. That is the real problem. Arkansas government has provided public support for faith-based institutions in exactly the religiously permissive way the proselytizers like George W. Bush had hoped.

Americans United will win few friends in Arkansas for pushing back. But it should win in court.


Speaking of...

Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-8 of 8

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Most Shared

  • And speaking of oligarchs: How Arkansas corporate welfare made Kochs richer

    Columnist Joe Nocera examinesthe Big River Steel deal in Arkansas — the state's largest foray into corporate welfare yet and a deal in which the billionaire Koch family, nominally opponents of corporate welfare, will benefit handsomely.
  • UA president, 5 trustees heading to Rome

    University of Arkansas President Donald Bobbitt and five members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees took off for Rome Sunday for a five-day trip for what a  press announcement said was "informational purposes...  to learn more about the operations of the University of Arkansas Rome Center. " One faculty member isn't happy about it.
  • Surprise: Lottery consultant to get fat contract

    It is not exactly shocking that a consultant group that's had the inside track all along to realize profits from the Arkansas Lottery has an even more profitable deal in the works than originally described.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Little Rock's divide

    It is a measure of the Little Rock public school dilemma that an announcement by School Superintendent Baker Kurrus last week drew unhappy responses from both sides of the economic and racial divide that has troubled the district for more than half a century.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • Huckawho? Ex-gov is yesterday's flavor

    Given the wild gyrations of the Republican presidential nominating race, I write these words knowing that a future meal of them remains possible, but nonetheless: Mike Huckabee is toast.
    • Oct 1, 2015
  • Profiting from fear, politics

    The Associated Press distributed an article with an Ohio dateline over the weekend that deserves more attention in Arkansas.
    • Sep 24, 2015
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Lyons: Trying to take down Hillary

    • I am a private loan lender who gives life time opportunity loans.. Do you need…

    • on October 12, 2015
  • Re: Guns, God and gays

    • The whole of the Bill of Rights was about individual rights, not some collective rights,…

    • on October 12, 2015
  • Re: Lyons: Trying to take down Hillary

    • Seems very few read this column based on lack of comments.

    • on October 11, 2015

© 2015 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation