My favorite PAC, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has launched a process designed to curtail state support of an Arkansas legislator's private preschool, Growing God's Kingdom. It seems that GGK receives all but 20 of its 168-student funding from the public. It also turns out that the faculty is exhorted to "share the love of Jesus" with students; the walls are covered with "scriptural pictures and decorations"; students come in from recess singing that great hymn to circular reasoning, "Jesus Loves Me, " and the bulletin boards are surrounded by religious themes and contain messages such as "Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag" and "Pledge Allegiance to the Bible."
What is amazing is the naivety, cynicism, or downright ignorance of the school owner, Rep. Justin Harris. Although sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, Harris allows as to how the Constitution's wall between church and state "protect[s] the people from tyrranny, from being forced to believe a certain way and to have a certain religion," but insists that this does not eliminate religion in government entirely. The government is not required to be separate "from having [the?] Christianity part of it." Huh? Harris is quick to add that the half million spent on 110 students each year from public monies does not mean that students are forced to participate in the Christian part of the curriculum.
For example, those who opt out of the "Bible time" portion of the schooling. If the child wants, they are given an alternative activity, Harris points out, but he also says that no student of the 168 expressed a wish to do so. Americans United demurred. Such an alternative program does nothing to address the problem of public funding going to a religious school, prohibited by the program administering the grant, Arkansas Better Chance for School Success (or ABC). The school is discriminatory toward other religious beliefs, too. Their dress code prohibits wearing any clothing that has "characters that may be affiliated with witches, goblins, ghost[s], or evil content." (I'd like to introduce them to Hamlet, where Shakespeare says: "Nothing's good or evil but thinking makes it so." That is how we get out state penal codes with their cash cow mala prohibida.)
Then Harris makes the most outrageously cynical comment of all. He says that the Bible lessons are tailored to the age of the student and says, I kid you not, "It's like reading Winnie the Pooh. It's the same thing. I don't say, 'Son, Winnie the Pooh is real and you gotta believe this.' Just like we don't say, 'Jonah was eaten by a whale.'" Of course not, Winnie isn't Jesus (although the possibility might make a good term paper thesis). But for an evangelical to insist that the preschoolers are not told that the Bible is the literal word of God, meaning that Jonah must have been swallowed by a whale, is just incredible (in all senses of the word). If he bothered to read Melville, he might know that the Biblical account is hardly metaphorical. Whalers sometimes were eaten by whales, or at least swallowed by them.
Instead of asking what Jesus would do, lovers of the freedoms enshrined in our national and state constitutions wonder what Jefferson would say. I know I do.