GOP Lawmaker Introduces Bill To Force State To Pay For Religious Pre-School
by David Badash
A Republican state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would force the state to pay for “faith-based” or religious daycare and pre-school, as long as the parent and not the state requests it. Arkansas‘ Rep. Randy Alexander is attempting to amend a state law, the Arkansas Better Chance Program — which provides funding to daycare and pre-school facilities — to remove the section that ensures the state does not fund religious-based education.
Additionally, Rep. Alexander’s Arkansas state legislature colleagues, Rep. Justin Harris and state Senator Johnny Key, happen to own chains of religious early childhood program pre-schools.
Rep. Alexander’s “HB 1352, co-sponsored by a gang of Republicans, would amend existing law on the state-funded Arkansas Better Chance pre-school program, which has provided solid family income to Harris’ Growing God’s Kingdom daycare in West Fork and pre-schools operated in Mountain Home by Sen. Johnny Key’s family,” Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times reports:
The prevalence of religious practices in those state-funded institution prompted a complaint, a review by DHS and a re-emphasis of the constitutional guidance that state money can’t be used to establish religion (fundamentalist Christian in these cases).
Alexander would attempt to fix that. His bill would strike the part of the law that requires review of ABC programs to be sure they don’t violate the constitutional church-state separation principle. Instead, it says:
Arkansas Better Chance Program funding may be approved for and expended by a faith-based early childhood program if the program is selected by the parent of a child enrolled in the faith-based early childhood program and not by a state agency or officer.
In 2011, Americans United for Separation of Church and State reported that “Growing God’s Kingdom has received over $1 million in state funds since 2005. The school, it turns out, is quite clearly a sectarian ministry.”
Staff members are required to “share the love of Jesus” with students, and the school operates with a Christian curriculum that includes a “Bible time” for verses, stories and prayer. The handbook assures parents that staff members will “strive too [sic] ensure that your child feels the love of Jesus Christ while preparing them for Kindergarten.” The preschoolers, it continues, will be taught “the word of God” so that they can “spread the word of God to others.”
Children’s clothing depicting characters that may be affiliated with witches, goblins, ghost [sic] or evil content” is prohibited. (So long, Casper!)
On Nov. 1, Americans United sent a letter to the Arkansas Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Department of Education asking for an investigation and remedial action. Arkansas Better Chance for School Success funds, the letter said, should not be used to pay for religion.
Preschool owner State Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) seems confused about the constitutional mandates at issue. He told Arkansas News that church-state separation exists “to protect the people from tyranny, from being forced to believe a certain way and to have a certain religion,” but that it does not eliminate “the government from having Christianity part of it.”
Atheist children may enroll at the preschool, he told the news agency, but their parents are told that religion is part of the curriculum.
“You understand that you are going to get exposed to Christianity throughout the day,” he said, “or just by saying, ‘Hey, you know, Jesus loves you.’”
That’s just our point, of course. If the preschool teaches religion “throughout the day,” it shouldn’t be supported with taxpayer dollars. Ministries should be financed by those who believe their tenets, not taxpayers who may or may not.