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h1

Arkansas Republicans Treat Constitution Like A Buffet, Only Pick The Parts They Like

February 7, 2012

Irony, billboard style.

Misleading title? Hardly. I mean, how else does one explain this story?

[Rep. Justin] Harris [(R-West Fork)] does have some support in the Legislature. Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, a chaplain at Saline Memorial Hospice in Bryant, said lawmakers should oppose the rule.

“The parents have the right to choose whether they want their children to go to those centers that offer that or not,” he said. “Some parents want their children to be exposed to that, and we shouldn’t necessarily deprive them of that on the basis of the argument that DHS is making.”

OK…no. No, that’s not the issue at all.

The parents certainly have the right to choose which daycare their children attend; no one is arguing that. In fact, if the DHS money was going directly to the parents in the form of a voucher, and those parents were then choosing to use that voucher at a reglious daycare, that would be much, much closer to being constitutionally sound. In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002), the U.S. Supreme Court held that such a system did not violate the Establishment Clause because parents were free to use secular or religious schools, and, as long as the law did not especially encourage the use of vouchers for religious schools, the fact that most parents chose parochial schools was irrelevant.

But that’s not good enough for Justin Harris. Nope, he wants the state of Arkansas to not only cover the tuition for the students of Growing God’s Kingdom, but also to subsidize the daycare itself and to allow him to continue teaching the Bible as part of the curriculum. Essentially, he wants to promote Christianity on Arkansas’s dime. Trouble is, there is a long line of Supreme Court cases that prohibit arrangements that aren’t even as over-the-top as what Harris is suggesting. For example, Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), the Court struck down a Pennsylvania law that allowed the state to reimburse religious schools for the cost of secular textbooks, secular materials, and the salaries of teachers who taught secular subjects. Think about that for a second: paying money to a religious school just to cover the costs of the non-religious teaching that occurred there violated the first amendment, yet Justin Harris wants people to believe that paying money to a religious school to subsidize all activities, religious and secular, is somehow acceptable.

How to explain Harris’ willingness to make an ass of himself (moreso than usual, I mean)? I see three possible explanations:

1. He’s an idiot who honestly believes that it’s ok for the state to fund a religious daycare. The problem with this explanation is that you have to assume that Harris would happily support the same funding for a Muslim or Jewish or Zoroastrian daycare, which we all know is not true. Though I did just get a good laugh at idea of Harris holding a press conference to explain why he thought it was fine for a state-funded Unification Church-based daycare to teach that Sun Myung Moon is the Messiah.

2. He’s greedy, and he’s willing to use his elected position to continue to milk the state for hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. This absolutely reeks of a conflict of interest, what with Harris, in the capacity of a legislator, begging other legislators to oppose an agency rule that directly impacts Harris’ business. (Though, to be fair, his actions do not fit squarely within the prohibited activities under Arkansas Code Annotated 21-8-304, but only because Harris is arguing that the ability to run a church daycare on the public dime should be granted to anyone who so desires.)

3. He and other ARGOP types like Hammer and Rep. Johnny Key (R-Mountain Home) see this as a possible election-year campaign issue. The Arkansas Blog hit on this theory yesterday, and it makes sense on a basic level: if Harris can pitch himself as the martyr, being persecuted by mean ol’ liberals just because he loves Jesus, then he and other Republicans can appeal to that voting bloc that thinks “loves Jesus” trumps “violates the state and Federal constitution.”

If I had to guess, I would say that the explanation for Harris’ buffoonery is a combination of the last two options. Specifically, he’s greedy enough to try to use his elected position to keep the state money coming in, Constitution be damned, and other people have realized that they can spin his greed into a campaign issue that plays in the Arkansas hinterlands (all of which reminds me of the second epistle of Peter, verse 2, chapter 3: “In their greed they will exploit you with false words,” but I digress).

Regardless of the rationale, however, the simple, indisputable fact remains: Justin Harris would willingly violate the Arkansas and U.S. Constitutions for his own personal gain.