It’s a road we’ve been down before. No matter how lawmakers try to equivocate, twiddle and spin, any path other than a straight one runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
As recently reported by the Arkansas News Bureau, last Tuesday state legislators were told that a proposed rule to ban state-funded religious activities at Arkansas preschools would not ban religious songs and art if they are not presented in a way that amounts to religious instruction. Simply put, this is a distinction without a difference. It is little more than a callous attempt by legislators like Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, owner of Growing God’s Kingdom preschool in West Fork, to continue proselytizing on the state taxpayers’ nickel.
As reported, Breck Hopkins, chief counsel for the state Department of Human Services, told the Rules and Regulations Subcommittee that during the previous day’s hearing he was asked how the rule would affect religious songs and art but was not able to provide an immediate answer.
Hopkins said he could not find a court decision on that exact issue, but he said the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has said that the study of religion is not forbidden when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.
That’s not what Harris and those of his ilk intend. Objective study of religious material in a preschool setting is preposterous on face. Given that the bulk of children present would have only begun to command the ability of abstract thought, to assume they could discern a difference between presentation for the purposes of indoctrination versus secular consideration is ludicrous.
Irrespective of the validity or truth of Harris’ beliefs, he and others like him cannot be allowed to further their personal religious agenda on the backs of the taxpayers — even if the taxpayers are amenable to his particular brand of religious dogma. Furthermore, does anyone really think that the religious material presented would ever represent anything other than a particular strain of Southern evangelical Christianity? Would Islamic, Hindu, Jain, Shinto, Zoroastrian or the indigenous religions of native Americans be given the same due consideration? Of course not — if only for the simple reason that these alternative traditions are considered heresy by those bent on converting the world to their beliefs.
In a line of questions that speak to the preposterous nature of the discussion, Rep. Johnnie Roebuck, D-Arkadelphia, asked if a religious song would be permissible in a Christmas program if other, non-religious songs were included as well. Just to repeat a point often made by conservative Christians, you can’t have Christmas without Christ. As such, a “Christmas program” is axiomatically a religious program. What one is then left with is a “holiday program” which is, again, anathema to those of a certain viewpoint.
Simply put, Harris and those of similar mindset should be allowed to teach children whatever religious message they want to disseminate. That is a hallmark of our constitutional democracy. Of course the other hallmark is the Establishment Clause, which forbids government sanctioning of religious doctrine. As such, even if you believe in lockstep with Harris, you still cannot expect the government to pay him to proselytize.
This is exactly why people fled Europe to come here. They didn’t want the government to tell them what they had to believe — and that distinction is what makes America different.