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January 25, 2012

4

New Rule: You Cannot Have $1 Million For Religious Indoctrination

by juju2112

growinggodIt seems that some of my tax dollars have been going towards indoctrinating children with Christianity. According Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a certain preschool in West Fork, Arkansas called “Growing God’s Kingdom” has received substantial public funds:

[…] Growing God’s Kingdom has received over $1 million in state funds since 2005, including $534,000 for the 2010-2011 school year. The taxpayer dollars came to the school through the Arkansas Better Chance for School Success program (ABC), which provided tuition for 110 of the 168 students at the school this year. The parents of only about 20 students pay full tuition, which is $135-$140 per week.

Some fun facts about this preschool:

  • It is owned by a politician: Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris.
  • The curriculum includes Bible stories and prayer.
  • The staff handbook states that staff members must “share the love of Jesus with these children. Teach them the word of God so that can (sic) instill the word in them and they can spread the word of God to others”.
  • The classroom-area maintenance requirements mandate that the “Bulletin board in the hall needs to be faith based”.
  • The handbook provided to parents states:

“We ask that you not send any items with the following characters:

Pokemon, Digimon, Teletubbies, Harry Potter, Scooby-Doo, Power Puff Girls, or any other characters that may be affiliated with witches, goblins, ghost, or evil content.”

All of this came out in November of last year when the Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a complaint to DHS and the state Education Department.

Well, time has passed, and The Arkansas Department of Human Services has a new policy where they will attempt to police first amendment violations. They sent out a memo this week stating that they’re going to start enforcing it.

Highlights of the new policy:

  • No religious activity during the 7 hour school day.
  • All teaching must be secular.
  • No public funds can be spent on anything that would be used to advocate religion.
  • Annual certification and random inspections will verify that these rules are being followed.

The owner of the day care, State Representative Justin Harris, responded to this new policy on KNWA yesterday:

“The only religious instruction that we have is ten minutes per day. It’s really not even instructions. I would call it just a Bible story or story time.”

[…]

“The only thing that we’re going to concede to doing is teach the Bible story or read the Bible story after hours…We will keep our religious verses on the walls, we will continue to have what we call the Jesus rug on the wall, we’re not going to take anything down.”

Max Brantley from the Arkansas Times already refuted this all the way back in November:

Harris, and various media enablers, seem intent on claiming that — if a Bible class isn’t part of the 7.5 hours of instruction required daily in return for the almost $1 million he receives every year in public money — he can get away with it during the extended hours of the day. The case law doesn’t agree with him. The argument overlooks the embedded public dollars in his building, the light bill, the furniture, the instructional materials and the salaries of the staff teaching Bible. It also overlooks the daylong exposure Harris provides in the form of Bible verses on bulletin boards and other religious exercises done on the taxpayers’ money.

I have to agree. What is the difference between verbal religious instruction and Jesus propaganda plastered all over the walls? Either way, the message gets across to the kids. The FAQ that the state released about their new policy also explicitly states that moving bible study and prayer to before or after school hours isn’t okay:

6. May I extend the ABC day beyond 7 hours to make time
for bible study or prayer during the day?
ABC program standards apply to everything that happens during the 7-hour ABC day, including recess, lunch, and rest, and therefore apply to any religious activities that take place during the day. Even if that was not the case, any religious activity would have to be arranged in a way that could not directly or indirectly pressure a child to participate. A policy allowing a child to opt out of a religious activity does not solve the problem, because a child who decided not to participate in prayer time would be conspicuous (especially if there are no other scheduled events) and would be subject to both adult and peer pressures. “[T]he First Amendment prohibits the government from putting children in this difficult position.”

Of course, commenters on the KNWA Facebook page are crying about their religious freedom being violated. I find it really strange that Christians only seem to care about their religious freedom. They don’t care about the religious freedom of non-Christians.

For example, take these quotes from Justin Harris back in November:

Harris said Thursday that in his view, separation of church and state exists “to protect the people from tyranny, from being forced to believe a certain way and to have a certain religion.”

“That’s where I think the separation comes in. I don’t think the separation eliminates the government from having Christianity part of it,” he said.

Harris said his preschool is not exclusively for Christian children — the children it serves include some from atheist homes, he said — but it is up front with parents about its religious aspects.

You understand that you are going to get exposed to Christianity throughout the day, or just by saying, ‘Hey, you know, Jesus loves you,’” he said.

He apparently doesn’t understand that these two statements contradict each other. When a child goes to a school and has Christianity jammed down their throat, the state is trying to force them to believe in a certain way. If they don’t believe, they are ostracized and told they are going to burn in hell. My own children, who attend public school, have had kids tell them they can’t be friends anymore because my kids don’t go to church. If it’s that bad in public schools, what do you think it would be like in a place called “Growing God’s Kingdom”? But to a typical Christian in Arkansas, it’s all about them. It’s happy fun-fun land where everyone is a Christian.

It’s all well and good for them to say they would accept kids from atheist families, but it rings a bit hollow when their own student handbook bans clothing depicting witches or other “evil things”. This strongly implies that they would not accept children from Wiccan families. What if a child came to school with a pentacle necklace? The school would surely have a problem with that, and that’s forcing people to believe in a certain way.

I wrote an article last month explaining why I find Christianity so offensive. But of course, this isn’t illegal because some people are offended by it. It’s illegal because it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I applaud the state in trying to rectify this matter, but I don’t think they’ve gone far enough yet.

Update: It looks like the new policy still has to be approved. So, there’s still time to fix the issue of religious materials on the walls and bible study after hours. This article from NWAOnline clarifies:

The Arkansas Board of Education must approve the proposed rule, then it is subject to a 30-day public comment period. A public hearing will be held during that time, Webb said.

The rule then goes back to the board, then to the Legislative Council rules and regulations subcommittee for review, she said.

Sources:

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jan 25 2012

    According to this article, your number is too low:

    “Amy Webb, a spokesman for the Department of Human Services….

    Harris’ Growing God’s Kingdom in West Fork. The preschool has received $2.6million in grants through the Arkansas Better Chance program since 2005, Webb said.”

    http://www.nwaonline.com/news/2012/jan/25/group-rule-symbols-isnt-enough-20120125/

    Reply
    • juju2112
      Jan 26 2012

      Yeah, you’re right. Getting facts right is hard!

  2. Jan 26 2012

    “My own children, who attend public school, have had kids tell them they can’t be friends anymore because my kids don’t go to church.”

    I’ve had my kids in martial arts since they were six, because they may be targeted for bullying due to their scuular upbringing.

    Reply
  3. Jan 28 2012

    Now, that’s a school that’s violating their students freedoms. I’ve heard about this school before.

    Reply

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