Awful Award: Religious Right Group to Honor Controversial Ark. Lawmaker for His ‘Courage’
Let’s say you know of a state lawmaker who used taxpayer money to promote religion at a pre-school he owns. Imagine that he also legally adopted two children, then allegedly “re-homed” them with a man who was later accused of abusing one of those children. Would such an individual deserve an award for “courage”? The Religious Right seems to think so.
The Arkansas-based Family Council Action Committee (FCAC) intends to give an award to state Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) and another lawmaker “for exhibiting their Christian faith and values in legislation they presented at the Arkansas State Capitol during the 90th General Assembly,” according to a press release from FCAC. “Furthermore, they demonstrated courage by standing strong in faith when situations were tough at the State Capitol and they did so with grace. They are consistently models of their Christian values in their homes, their communities, and their churches.”
If Harris is a model of “Christian values,” I’d say that faith is in some trouble. Americans United has tangled with Harris previously because he runs a religious pre-school called Growing God’s Kingdom (GGK). Starting in 2005, Harris managed to funnel $2.6 million in taxpayer dollars to his overtly sectarian school through the Arkansas Better Choice (ABC) program. This included a whopping $534,000 for the 2010-2011 school year alone.
Since Harris’ school has a stated mission 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, there was an obvious constitutional problem in play.
So Americans United took action, and thanks to our complaint, in 2012 the Arkansas Department of Education changed its rules to bar pre-schools that teach religion from receiving state funds.
And that was the last we heard from Harris, until he came under fire this year for the role he may have played in a child-abuse case. According to a lengthy report in the Arkansas Times, Harris may have given two children he and his wife, Marsha, had adopted to Eric Cameron Francis, a former teacher at GGK who was fired after just three months for what Harris said was poor attendance. That termination came in January 2014; Francis was arrested that April and charged with raping a six-year-old girl who is reportedly Harris’ adopted daughter.
Harris legally adopted a six-year-old and a three-year-old through the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The Times said pictures of the two little girls showed up on Harris’ social media account in early 2013 and in March of that year he said the girls had been formally adopted.
It’s here that things got a little murky. The Times simply said: “For unknown reasons, about six months after the adoption was finalized, the Harrises sent the two girls to live with Eric Francis….”