Gambling and Prostitution

1890 Photo of Guthrie looking southeast from 2nd Street and Oklahoma toward the U. S. Land Office, Hell’s Half Acre, Capitol Hotel, and Blue Belle Saloon. Believed to be a 4th of July parade. http://www.forensicgenealogy.info/contest_5_results.html

Police docket records for the first decade of existence for Guthrie (Logan County, Oklahoma Territory) reveal that government operations depended heavily on fines levied against prostitutes, those who maintained houses of gambling, and those who disturbed the peace by cursing, fighting, loitering, or other minor offenses. Taxes and licenses supplemented the city’s income. Major crimes such as murder fell under the jurisdiction of the federal court at Fort Smith.

Despite the heavy and persistent fines, gambling and prostitution flourished in this new frontier town. As shown in the following yearly summary of offenses, these activities tapered off slowly. By 1900, less than a third of the number of fines were levied against gamblers and prostitutes than had occurred in the peak year of 1893.

As the city gained its footing, additional laws were passed. For example, in 1891 fines were instituted for failure to license a dog, suggesting that dogs running loose had become a problem. With a continuing influx of people from other more settled places around the nation, greater pressure fell upon town fathers to clean up. Hogs and cattle became the subject of complaints as did the proper maintenance of outdoor privies. However, even by 1900, the number of arrests by Guthrie police for prostitution and gambling still topped any other offense.

As other sections of the former Indian Nations (Oklahoma) opened to white settlement, the front lines of gamblers and prostitutes moved to the newest places where largely male populations could be counted on as eager customers. Further west, mining of precious metals in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and other areas formed the last frontier of rough and ready places where gamblers and ladies of the night could earn a profitable income.

At the time, journalist Frederick Barde reported on the gambling scene at Guthrie for the Kansas City Star, as recorded by Michael J. Hightower in his 2013 book Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood:

Those who made it to Guthrie with their wallets intact might have visited the Reeves brothers’ gambling house operated by Dick and Bill Reeves. Opened on the day of the Run of ’89 in a big tent “where there was room enough for 1,500 men and women to gamble and drink and carouse,” the Reeves brothers ran their business in Guthrie for twenty years. Barde’s description of the famed honky-tonk confirms an image of the western saloon that has never yielded its place in our collective memory: “Gamblers from every State tackled the game that ran night and day in that sleepless place. Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed over its tables. The six-shooter and the dirk settled many a dispute, and the dead man was hauled away and the blood scrubbed from the floor as part of the day’s business. Outlaw gangs that infested Oklahoma in those days risked their loot against the faro bank and the roulette wheel—and usually lost.”[1]

As late as 1898, the situation in Guthrie continued to outrage the city’s more upstanding citizenry, as reflected in this editorial in the Guthrie Daily Leader.

Why is not some action taken toward driving out the hundreds of tramps, bums and tinhorn gamblers that infest the city? The streets and alleys fairly swarm with such vermin and with our present small police force the city is not safe. I hear daily of petty thieving done by this gentry. Such characters do a town no good and I think it high time to begin a crusade. Every night the joints on Second street are crowded with bums, who, after the lights go out, enter on a campaign of larceny. If the evil cannot be checked in any other way, then close the joints.[2]

Oklahoma Avenue 1893 Guthrie

Laws passed in 1893 in Oklahoma Territory allowed cities to levy an occupation tax on gaming tables, among many other activities including but not limited to auctioneers, contractors, druggists, restaurants, butchers, taverns, hawkers, peddlers, bankers, brokers, pawnbrokers, merchants of all kinds, grocers, wagons, carts, furniture dealers, real estate agents, and all kinds of exhibitions for pay.[3] The same 1893 law allowed cities to prohibit houses of gambling as well as prostitution, tippling shops, billiard tables, bowling alleys, etc., and specifically prohibits the granting of license for gambling or prostitution.[4] Observers might conclude that Guthrie’s town fathers deemed these activities too lucrative to completely banish, allowing gambling and prostitution to flourish in order to make the most of the fines they produced.

Also passed that year, a law stated that any officer of the law found to be drinking or gambling could be removed from office upon complaint by any citizen. This law may have been the cause of Bill Tilghman’s sudden change of career. After being appointed deputy marshal in Spring 1893, he gave up ownership of his gambling house.[5] Yet these stringent laws, including those that penalized property owners if their tenants pursued any such forbidden activities, seem to have been largely ignored by boom towns of those lawless years, as Guthrie’s police docket reveals.

Guthrie’s first decade of arrests were as follows:

1889 May thru Dec

Trespass 9

Trespass/Stealing 28

Assault/Fighting 8

Disturb Peace 14

Public Intoxication 1

Conduct Business w/o License 4

Fake Credentials 1 (doctor)

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 (Fine 10.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 2 & Prostitution 46 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 36.00)

1890

Trespass 2

Assault/Fighting: 13

Failure to Pay Business Tax 7

Sell Beverage w/o License 1

Profane Language 6

Disturb Peace 5

Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 13

Maintain Public Nuisance 1

Maintain a House of Gambling 25 (Average fines: 10.75)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9 & Prostitution 43 (Average fine: 7.50)

1891

Assault 16 – 1 pitchfork, 1 w/ hoe

Disturb Peace/Fighting/Profanity 128

Discharge Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 30

Failure to Pay Business Tax 9

Maintain a House of Gambling 120 (Range of fines: 15.00 – 35.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9

Prostitution 148 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual: Unregistered dog: 3

On Street w/o visible means of support 1

Left on ground exposed cow 1

Saloon open on Sunday or after hours: 3

1892

Assault 7

Disturb Peace/Fighting 156

Public Intoxication 52

Failure to Pay Business Tax 14

Maintain Public Nuisance 2 (one charge for hogs)

Maintain a House of Gambling 142 (Range of fines: 10.00 – 40.00)

Prostitution 202 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual: Frequently found in house of prostitution, fined 46.55

Business open earlier than 5 am

Indecent exposure

Not burying dead pony

1893

Assault/Fighting 50

Disturb Peace 244 (many charges for “bad language”)

Loiter/Vagrant 24

Public Intoxication 84

Maintain a House of Gambling 29 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 40.00) (No arrests after March)

Prostitution 337 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

Unusual: Riding horse on sidewalk

Keep hogs in filthy condition

1894

Assault/Fighting 25

Disturb Peace 96

Loiter/Vagrant 6

Public Intoxication 93

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 arrest* (16.65 only recorded charge/fine, June)

Prostitution 270 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

(Terms used in booking: Place of Assignation, Bawdy House, Keeper, Inmate, House of Ill Fame)

Unusual: Allow horses to run at large

Carry on sexual intercourse at Arlington Hotel

Slaughter animals

Dress not belonging to his sex

* Mysteriously, arrests for gambling ceased entirely from April 1893 throughout 1894 and remained at a low rate in 1895.

1895

Assault 22

Disturb Peace 62

Loiter/Vagrant 16

Assault/Fighting 22

Public Intoxication 160

Maintain a House of Gambling 35 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65)

Prostitution 219 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

(Includes “occupy room for unlawful sexual activity”; “use room in restaurant for assignation”)

Unusual: Appear on street in lewd manner

Garbage in streets and alley

Allow cow to run at large

Hogs in city

Cow in dirty pen

Fail to close saloon at 12 a.m.

Group assault on John ‘Chinaman’

1896

Assault 30

Disturb Peace 77

Loiter/Vagrant 1

Public Intoxication 66

Maintain a House of Gambling 52 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65

Prostitution 152 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

Unusual: Leaving team of horses unattended

Keep meat market open after 9 a.m. Sunday

1897

Assault/Fighting 23

Disturb Peace 95

Loiter/Vagrant 27

Public Intoxication 147

Maintain a House of Gambling 61

Prostitution 207 (Three women filed physician certificates, assumed to verify state of health); arrests for cohabitation: 23

Unusual: Appear on street in unbecoming dress (female)

1898

Assault/Fighting 21

Disturb Peace 78

Loiter/Vagrant 30

Public Intoxication 95

Maintain a House of Gambling 41

Prostitution 169 (Cohabit: 36)

Unusual: Remove contents of privy without license

Sale of liquor on Sunday

1899

Assault/Fighting 34

Disturb Peace 55

Loiter/Vagrant 32

Public Intoxication 181

Maintain a House of Gambling 64 (Average fine $40)

Prostitution 136 (Cohabit: 28) (Average fine $10)

Unusual: Maintain filthy condition injurious to public health

Overflowing privy vault

Steal 27 hen’s eggs

1900

Assault/Fighting 30

Disturb Peace 73

Loiter/Vagrant 14

Public Intoxication 243

Maintain a House of Gambling 33

Prostitution 142

Unusual: Giving musical concert on the street without a license

~~~

[1] Hightower, Michael J. Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood. University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. 198  For more on Barde, see http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=BA019

[2] “Protest Against Bums,” The Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Oklahoma). March 3, 1898. 4

[3] The Compiled Laws of Oklahoma, 1909. Vol. I. Piper-Reed Book Company, 1909. Chapter 14, Article  3, Section 681

[4] Ibid, Section 683

[5] Ibid, Article 6, Section 753

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Treason In The Name of God Is Still Treason

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The United States now faces a Republican government whose members openly state their wish to make the country a Christian nation. Vice President Pence, among others, has proudly proclaimed that his God comes before country. Legislators compete to ‘out-Christian’ each other in conservative Congressional districts.

What are these people thinking?

The Founding Fathers set down rules about this new nation. The constitution specifically restricts government establishment of religion. Do Pence et al not know this? Or are they too wrapped up in zealotry to realize what’s at stake?

A recent Pew Research Center poll delivers the news that while only 71% of Americans identify as “Christian,” over 90% of legislators do so.

Why have the ‘nones’ grown in the public, but not among Congress?” asked Greg Smith, associate director for research at Pew, referring to people who check “none” on surveys asking their religion.

One possible explanation is people tell us they would rather vote for an elected representative who is religious than for one who is not religious.[1]

Evidently voters assume that a religious legislator is more trustworthy, this despite the fact that a long list of religious elected officials have been indicted and/or convicted of  crimes ranging from sexual abuse to fraud. In the Obama Administration alone, the dirty laundry of seven legislators (three Democrats, four Republicans) came to light. Under George W. Bush, six legislators fell from grace (three and three) while five members of his executive branch—all Republicans—also were found guilty of various crimes.[2]

That doesn’t touch the continuing eruption of scandals involving Christian church leaders. In 2015, Christian TV celebrity Josh Duggar was outed for molesting his younger sisters and was soon thereafter found to have joined (twice) an online service for cheating on your spouse. In 2016, just one of many church leader sex eruptions involved another Arkansas preacher, lay pastor David Reynolds, “who in addition to “discern[ing] the will of Christ through study, mutual exhortation and prayer,” to quote his former(?) church’s website, allegedly had a habit of exchanging child pornography on the Internet—with irresistible social media screennames ‘sweetoothcandy3,’ ‘Ethanluvsts,’ and ‘Luvsomecandy.’”[3]

Then there are the Catholic priests and little boys.

You’d think that some of this would tip off the voting public that Christians hold no moral high ground. Religion and morality are not synonymous. Morality does not depend upon religion, though for some, this is “an almost automatic assumption.”[4]

Yet the cognitive dissonance between the reality of Christian misdeeds and the public’s continuing belief that Christians are somehow less flawed than the average human continues unabated. Add that to the decades of Republican strategists wielding hot-button issues like abortion and prayer in schools, and it helps explain how well-intentioned voters simply do not understand that the foundations of our great nation cannot be trusted to Christians.

If Republican voters read a bit more history, they would appreciate the context of our constitutional mandate. They would understand that it was state-sponsored religion that drove early colonists to brave the Atlantic Ocean. History has a lot to teach about our hard-won freedom to live and worship as we see fit.

In 300 AD, the late Roman Empire enforced Christianity at the point of a sword. The useful concept of government empowered by God’s will spread through Europe. Those who wouldn’t swear fealty to a Christian God and the anointed King died a brutal death. Along the way, compulsory tithing (crops, coin, whatever you’ve got) supported both kingdoms.

As Europe descended into the Dark Ages (450 – 1100 AD), only the priests knew how to read and write. People were captive of whatever the priests told them. Religion became a tool of strong men who gained power and wealth at the expense of the working man. It’s a model that apparently hasn’t lost its usefulness.

This week for example, Trump and his Congressional minions installed an education secretary who plans to divert tax dollars toward religious schools that don’t have to meet standards.

… In a 2001 interview for The Gathering, a group focused on advancing Christian faith through philanthropy, [DeVos] and her husband offered a rare public glimpse of their views. Asked whether Christian schools should continue to rely on giving—rather than pushing for taxpayer money through vouchers—Betsy DeVos replied, “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.[5]

The European religious wars between 1524 and 1648 erupted after Martin Luther protested Catholic corruption such as buying forgiveness and ignoring priestly orgies with prostitutes. In response to this heretical bunch of Protestants, the Catholic inquisition targeted anyone who questioned the teachings or practices of the church. Thousands of Protestants, Jews, and other heathens were tortured and burned at the stake.[6]

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, the uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics …[7]

In 1659, the first enactment of religious liberty in the new colonies, the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: “No person or persons…shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.”

This became the central theme of the First Amendment which states, in part: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

All this is lost in the inflamed rhetoric of today’s evangelical right-wingers. Hard lessons won over the centuries leading up to the founding of the United States are now at risk of being entirely forgotten in a growing rush to create a Christian nation.

The 20th century saw the most rapid social and economic change of any time in human history. Conservatives, by definition, loath change. Spotting opportunity amid the fear provoked by such radical change, Republican strategists began inciting certain segments of the voting public. The so-called Silent Majority elected Reagan on the promise that their traditional lifestyles would once again become the national norm.

Despite the impossibility of this promise, Reagan’s 1983 “evil empire” speech—one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century—was delivered to the National Association of Evangelicals. That speech included references to C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, “a great spiritual awakening in America,” America’s own “legacy of evil,” school prayer, the Ten Commandments, and this telling litany: “an overwhelming majority of Americans disapprove of adultery, teenage sex, pornography, abortion, and hard drugs.”[8]

In the face of such resistance and without pretending to be a religion, progressives have pursued very Christ-like goals for generations. Ending slavery was part of that. Banning child labor was another. The long string of progressive political change has produced everything from a five-day work week to Social Security. There’s no equivalent political agenda whose objective is to benefit the human condition. All the conservatives can offer is an appeal for the good old days.

The great American experiment has been a fraught journey of defining what it means to offer ‘liberty and justice for all.’ The courts have relied on the constitution and its amendments in deciding what those promises meant. Their decisions have confirmed the rights of women, minorities, and homosexuals and sharpened the separating line between church and state.

Not happy with how all that has filtered out, extremists now want a ‘go-back’ option that takes away those rights and blurs the line so that teachers can lead prayers in schools, churches can campaign for candidates, and Christian teachings dictate national policy. Too many have been led to believe this is possible, thanks to Republican strategy in motivating voters through inciting religious passions.

Well, it is possible. We can make the United States a Christian nation. But it won’t be the nation our Founders intended. It would be like primitive nations where students are told what—not how—to think, where nonbelievers are subject to torture and brutal execution, where religion instead of reason dictates policy.

By overturning the fundamental concept upon which this nation was founded, every effort to convert the United States into a Christian nation is an act of high treason.

~~~

[1] http://religionnews.com/2017/01/03/religious-make-up-of-the-new-congress-overwhelmingly-christian/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_federal_politicians_convicted_of_crimes#Executive_branch

[3] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/22/why-do-conservative-christian-clergy-keep-screwing-around.html

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality_and_religion

[5] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/betsy-devos-christian-schools-vouchers-charter-education-secretary

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion and  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[7] https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.htm

[8] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/juneweb-only/6-7-12.0.html

Book Price Markdown — Gift of the Season Day 4

new cover Crime skewedObscure laws often become weapons used selectively against people who offend prevailing social sensibilities. This was the case examined in A Crime Unfit To Be Named. In 1949, a local man in this small Bible belt town became the target of extraordinary police scrutiny. Despite his advanced age and the private nature of his activities, if found guilty John William Campbell would face hard time. Swept up in this vendetta, two younger women would also become entangled in the notorious Arkansas criminal justice system.

Now for a limited time, this paperback is available for only $6.95, marked down from its regular price of $9.95. Amazon buy link

“I started reading ‘A Crime Unfit to Be Named’ and just didn’t stop. It’s really interesting and well written. Excellent research, too. Very fine job.”
—J. B. Hogan, Historian and Author of “The Apostate.”

Legal. Immoral.

Artists-impressions-of-Lady-Justice,_(statue_on_the_Old_Bailey,_London)For better or worse, religious affiliation remains an important thread in the social fabric of these United States. ‘Better,’ most would say. Political candidates campaign on their religious credentials. Religious leaders are sought out as advisers in business and community affairs.

A large segment of the population assumes that religion provides important moral guidelines for life. The theory is that without religion, there would be no morality.

But what if the opposite were true? What if religion gets in the way of moral behavior?

The assumption has been that highly religious people such as our locally infamous Justin and Marsha Harris are highly moral. They go to church. They ‘witness’ their faith in public. Mr. Harris has used his Christian standing in his successful campaigns for public office. Their religious mission is to ‘grow God’s kingdom’ at their pre-school by indoctrinating children with religious teachings.

In the last year, events have unfolded that cause many to question the morality of the Harrises. Believing that God guided their steps, about four years ago they adopted two little girls. Within a relatively short time, the girls became such as problem that the Harrises gave them away. The six-year-old was subsequently raped by her new ‘father.’ In March 2015, the story became public.

In addressing that horrible outcome, Justin Harris belatedly stated he felt sorry for the little girls’ experience. Aside from that, he has blamed the state’s social services agency for not helping more. That’s it.

The irony is that the Harrises felt free to dispose of their newly adopted young daughters and then, in the public fallout after their ‘rehoming’ came to light, agreed that such a practice should be defined as a felony.

Is such an act wrong only if it breaks a law? Did the act of rehoming change somehow once the law was passed, so that when Justin and Marsha rehomed these girls, it wasn’t wrong?

The moral reality is that if it’s a felony now, it was a felony when it happened.

Unfortunately, this is often how religion works in people’s minds. An act is immoral, wrong, bad only when someone has already written a rule or law about it. Does the religious person have license to ignore (or never bother to understand) a greater responsibility to adhere to an inner moral code that would say, emphatically, that dumping young children you’ve pledged to make your own is wrong, bad, immoral?

It’s the ultimate mea culpa. Throw up the hands. “Nobody said…”

Justin and Marsha found themselves at a loss about how to handle these two troubled young girls. They pulled out all their parenting skills to punish bad behavior—isolating, taking away privileges, removing toys and entertainment. They prayed out demons and perhaps did not spare the rod. Nothing worked. The behavior became worse.

This would have been a rich opportunity for the Harrises to learn some new parenting skills. Perhaps positive reinforcement, or long sessions of hugging and other positive physical contact, or one-on-one time pursuing new and interesting activities would have been useful in breaking down the wall of mistrust and anger that grew between these adults and their two young daughters.

Sympathetic observers point out that the Harrises had successfully raised three sons, concluding that they must be decent parents. It remains to be seen how well the sons turn out. But it’s also worth questioning whether the Harris’ success in raising their own children wasn’t a result of stellar parenting as much as a result of the boys’ adaptation to repressive, authoritarian parenting from Day One.

We know the girls were capable of appropriate behavior. The foster parents who cared for them before the Harris adoption as well as the family who have subsequently become the girls’ parents have remarked on the girls’ loving nature. Neither families have run shrieking in terror from the girls or found them a threat to the stability of their households. It’s not much of a stretch to conclude, based on this evidence, that the problem between the girls and the Harrises was the Harrises.

The rape has dominated discussion of the Harris’ rehoming decision. But a much bigger issue looms in the background. That is, the immorality of legal behavior.

For example, law enforcement beats up an innocent person because he didn’t instantly abide by police orders. A hunter spends $50,000 to kill a trophy animal. Legal. Immoral. A list of other examples would be long.

As far as I’ve heard, the Harrises have never said they did the wrong thing. Justin never admitted that he may have used his legislative seat (as representative for my home district) to push through an adoption against the expressed advice of caseworkers and the girls’ foster parents.

Yet it was a chain of events propelled by the Harrises which led to their custody of the girls in the first place. Where exactly does the responsibility begin?

Were the Harrises wrong to be so arrogant that they ignored advice from experienced caseworkers? Was it immoral to commit to parenting two very troubled young children and then renege?

Yes.

How is it possible for the Harrises to have engaged in immoral, arrogant behavior and still—after all the exposure and shame—not recognize the depth of their immorality?

I would suggest that their hubris stems directly from pride in their own religiosity.

A recent study found that religious people aren’t more likely to do good than their nonreligious counterparts.[1] This isn’t the first or last evidence that religion does not impart morality. Here’s just one of many comments on this question.

  • These studies begin to provide empirical support for the idea that like other psychological faculties of the mind, including language and mathematics, we are endowed with a moral faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong, interacting in interesting ways with the local culture. These intuitions reflect the outcome of millions of years in which our ancestors have lived as social mammals, and are part of our common inheritance as much as our opposable thumbs are.[2]

It makes sense that humans possess innate morality. In the view of those who subscribe to evolution, morality is an evolved necessary component of our continued existence. In the view of those who adhere to beliefs in extraterrestrial interference in human existence, morality would have been a key ingredient in intelligent design. Either way, all investigation points to an innate morality in human consciousness.

Recognition of innate wisdom and individual responsibility should be taught in every pulpit. Instead, especially in fundamentalist religions, individuals are taught to be afraid of their instincts. They’re taught to follow rules laid out in religious texts and nothing else matters.

Inevitably, a person’s avid embrace of institutionalized religion can and does interfere with the application of inborn human morality. The person trusts the religion, not himself. The religion’s rules or lack thereof in any given application supersedes any instinctive understanding of right action.

Assuming that the fundamental element of morality in human nature is not somehow missing in the genetic code of Justin and Marsha Harris, an interested observer would be forced to conclude that it was their religion that got them into this mess. Religion is the reason why, even months after their poor judgment became front page news, they still have not said they made a mistake, have not said they regret what they did. Have not apologized to the state agencies they maligned. Have not asked forgiveness of the public they supposedly served.

They did what they believed their religion and the law allowed. They parented according to a model condoned by the church, perhaps modeled after how they themselves were raised. What they did wasn’t a felony when they did it, therefore they did nothing wrong.

Harris has announced he won’t run for another term in office but stopped short of resigning from a seat he’ll hold another eighteen months. He continues to wield regulatory and fiscal power over the same state agency which he says forced him and Marsha to dump the little girls. He and his wife continue to operate their pre-school where they pass on their questionable religious teachings to innocent children.

As an embarrassed constituent who never voted for this man in the first place, I’ve given up hoping for a Harris epiphany any time soon. Even more regrettably, I doubt we’ll ever hear a word of censure from his equally-religious legislative colleagues and governor.

Perhaps the most we can salvage from this unsavory affair is to recognize the broader lessons. Religion doesn’t confer morality. Worse, an individual’s duty to pursue moral behavior is easily abdicated in favor of going to church.

We need more morality and less religion.

[1] http://www.livescience.com/47799-morality-religion-political-beliefs.html

[2] http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/SocialSciences/ppecorino/INTRO_TEXT/Chapter%208%20Ethics/Reading-Morality-without-Religion.htm

Us and Them

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We thought we were the top of the world. The most advanced. The richest. The strongest. The U. S. of A., best of the best. All those things are true in so many ways. Aside from our wealth of natural resources, the nation’s strength and riches are what we, each and collectively, have to offer.

But strengths and riches aren’t all we have to offer. We also perform acts of insane violence that kill young children or innocent churchgoers, of smug self-righteousness that allows a brother to repeatedly molest his sisters, that allows an adopted six year old girl to be ‘rehomed’ and raped by her new ‘father.’

Why do deep veins of ignorance, hate, and fear continue to burn through our national body like a stream of caustic lye?

More urgently, what are we going to do about it?

Cultural Tradition: The Scots, for example

Following centuries of armed conflict between the native Scots and the British, in 1745 the British brutally terminated the last rebellion. Traditional Scottish kilts were outlawed and inherited lands were taken from the ruling class. A century earlier, Britain had moved large numbers of Scots into northern Ireland in an effort to weaken the equally rebellious Irish. (The volatile results of that maneuver continue to simmer today.) This Scots population of northern Ireland became known as the Scotch-Irish.

Aside from the desire for self-rule, the Protestant Scots and Catholic Irish fought the Anglican British over religion.

Between 1717 and 1775, nearly a quarter million Scots and Scotch-Irish migrated to the American colonies. Earlier settlers had already built their towns, farms, and plantations along the eastern seaboard so these newcomers moved west to unsettled land. They fought Native Americans and the wilderness to carve out a life where nobody told them how to worship or what to wear.

quotescots copy (Wikipedia)

These are the people who formed the predominant original working class white populations of the southern states and parts of the Midwest. Already inured by generations of religious conflict in their native lands, the Scots clung fiercely to their religious beliefs, cultural traditions, and desire for independence from government rule. Generally not slave-holders, they nevertheless rallied to the Confederate cause, seeing it as their own because it was against government control, against someone telling them what to do.

The defeat of the South with its quarter-million deaths, injuries that came home with the veterans, and the loss of land, homes and families added to a long memory of defeat and humiliation. It is in this memory that the South will rise again, just as Scotland will once again enjoy independence from its British overlords. This is the vein of anger that holds tight to the Confederate flag, not because it is celebrated as a symbol of white over black, but because it serves as the rallying point for independent men against a conquering army. Rational analysis or details don’t matter. It’s the feeling of injustice that holds sway.

Many American Scots and Scotch-Irish have moved on, accepted the evolution of modern society and its rewards of broader understanding and tolerance. But many have not. For these folks, if you’re not with them, you’re against them.

They are but one example of ancient traditions which continue to guide attitudes and influence behavior in modern America.

Instinctive Fear: Racism

Humans innately tend to associate with others of our own kind. Researchers have given the labels of ‘in-groups’ and ‘out-groups’ in discussing this behavior. Within an ‘in-group,’ individuals are assured of mutual support in everything from caring for an injury to defending against attack. We can count on our in-group guys.

At the most primal level, an instant response rises when confronted with someone who doesn’t fit the model of our ‘in-group’. This was an important survival instinct among early humans who relied on visual cues while the stranger remained at a distance. A fight-or-flight reflex rises from the old brain upon encountering a person clearly not of our in-group and we respond accordingly.

What we hope for and strive for in an advanced multicultural, multi-racial society is an immediate secondary and reasoned response that supersedes the instantaneous first reaction to a stranger. We look again and think about whether there’s a real risk. Just because that person doesn’t fit our in-group criteria doesn’t mean he’s a threat.

A fear-based response underlies behavior like freshman Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy for a new war against Islam. Extremist Christianity such as embraced by Cotton focuses on differences as a way to define and protect group identity. Kill the out-group! A more loving and confident mindset seeks grounds of commonality. A more realistic stance for responsible elected leaders involves negotiation and understanding to lower barriers between groups.

But the more stressed the person or occasion, the more likely the primal reflex remains in force. Cotton may suffer residual PTSD from his two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tests have shown that people are more likely to identify an ambiguous object in a stranger’s hand as a weapon if the stranger is from an out-group. Most importantly, people who regularly operate from a position of feeling threatened are more likely to react instinctively. Everyone but me and my known friends are ‘other.’ (Click here for more.)

Within our most stressed populations, acts of violence are committed by persons of a self-identified group against those seen as outsiders. The outsider is a target for the anger, frustration, and hatred of the in-group member who wants desperately to prove himself to the rest of his group. This behavior can be found in gang warfare, where fabric color designates group identity. It can be found in acts of violence in the Middle East, where a disagreement in 632 about the rightful heir to Mohammad’s leadership resulted in Sunni and Shia still killing each other 1383 years later.

Such acts on behalf of the in-group are carried out as a moral imperative.

The Charleston shooter clearly stated his moral imperative in murdering nine innocent people. They were African-American. “They” were raping “his people, taking over his country.” He did it for his group, whites. His reality, his moral imperative.

Jesus: Not What I Meant. Not What I Meant At All

Murder on behalf of racial purity is little different from those who murder on behalf of their religion. Each Islamic sect claims to be the true follower of Allah. By definition, all others are not ‘of God.’ All others deserve to die. Similarly, many Christian denominations in the U. S. believe all but their kind will burn in the fires of hell.

Faith traditions are, by their very nature, a useful measuring stick by which people may define their most important in-group. More than any other group, religion and its rules ensure a mutual understanding of appropriate behavior, ethics, traditions, and hierarchy. Ideally, religion could serve as the bridge between disparate groups and unite us in spiritual brotherhood.

Sadly, religion has more often than not become yet another means of categorizing a person as out of ‘our’ group. Thus Ronnie Floyd, current head of the Southern Baptist Convention, second largest religious denomination in the U.S. after Catholics, has proclaimed his intention to defy the highest court in the land if it rules in favor of same-sex marriage. He stated that “God, not the Supreme Court” holds final authority over marriage, as if the licensing of marriage were not a legal function of the government.

The issue of gay marriage is but one conflict between primal instinct and the tolerance and acceptance evolving as a world culture. “Raising consciousness is a persuasive enterprise,” Michael Walzer writes in his new book The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions, “but it quickly turns into a cultural war between the liberators and what we can call the traditionalists.” This conflict gives rise to fundamentalism and religious ultra-orthodoxy in unexpected places around the world, including the United States.

The more threatened an individual may feel, the more likely he will invest in behavior that he believes will strengthen his in-group. Floyd speaks for all Southern Baptists in voicing fear of a social change perceived as a threat to their religion. This unreasoned primal reaction ignores the reality of the situation: gay marriage has no effect on traditional marriage—unless, as the quip goes, one of the partners in a traditional marriage is gay.

Ideally, religion serves as a pathway not only to seeing the entire human family as the in-group but also to higher self-esteem, respect for others, and a general sense of well-being, all of which help move an individual toward a less fearful stance in life. But this is where religion often plays its most destructive role. Extremist teachings emphasize differences and negatives. Only a few will be chosen. Homosexuals are not like us. Demons can control our lives. We have no personal power. Everything derives from an angry and punishing God.

Differences in economic status are also seen as a reflection of God’s will. The Protestant work ethic involves the relationship between religion, work, and capital. In order to demonstrate our Godliness, we are expected to work hard. With sufficient effort, our labors produce wealth, a sign that we have pleased God. This is why the wealthy are seen as uniquely imbued by God’s grace. For the religious extremist, the wealthy are almost worthy of worship in their own right.

If you’re poor, it’s because you’re unworthy of God’s blessings.

This is why worshipers gravitate to big fancy churches. God likes it there.

Our natural inclination is to accept authority from those we deem more worthy than ourselves. This is why corporate interests have been able to shape American lives around materialism and consumption, a development staunchly supported by religious extremists in spite of Biblical teachings that specifically condemn wealth. (More here)

Adoration of the rich and powerful is why marginalized populations resent any effort by government to assist the poor. It defies God’s will to give  assistance, especially since the funding for such assistance derives from those who have worked hard and gained God’s favor. This holds particularly true in prejudices against African-Americans or Hispanics, who are often caught in a vicious cycle of economic disadvantage and notable markers of an out-group (different skin color, speech patterns, social traditions).

Likewise, yielding authority to self-anointed leaders of religion occurs as a form of obeisance to the leader of the in-group. Recently the Arkansas Times quoted employees of a preschool operated by Arkansas legislator Justin Harris, whose failed strict parenting of two adopted girls resulted in rehoming and the subsequent rape of a six year old: “This was way out of control,” said the worker quoted throughout this piece. “You know how you have an ‘aha moment’? I said the other day to [a co-worker], ‘Why didn’t any of us make a hotline call?’ She said, ‘I don’t know’ … I think because Justin is so religious, we sort of accepted it.”

Did the Charleston murderer understand instinctively that his act would call into question the entire concept of group trust? Should the church members now carry guns, mistrust all newcomers? There can be little doubt that his act, in his tiny mind, served a goal of his self-identified in-group which was/is to destroy the ‘other.’ In that, he now sees himself as a victorious hero.

Similarly, the murder of Christians or other non-Sunni sects by ISIS serves the purpose of their in-group. As one cleric has stated, “We’re ridding the world of polytheism and spreading monotheism across the planet.” (Cite)

The Failure of Education

Our nation’s citizenry can’t operate on a level playing field if they are not educated equally as children. Breaking through destructive cultural, economic, and religious barriers seems an obvious avenue toward eliminating or at least defusing in-group fears and prejudices. And it is.

Which is why members of extremist in-groups violently resist efforts like school integration and uniform curriculum standards.

One might assume that any parent wants his/her child to love learning the lessons of history, the ways of numbers, the use of language in communication and reasoning, the amazing details of biology. We have, as a nation, understood that a thriving economy and successful democracy depend on the fruits of education, which is why we dedicate significant tax dollars to support our public schools. It is why we have set standards for teacher education and defined specific educational goals, why we have forced integration and provided school lunches. We need every child to develop to his/her fullest potential.

For some, the nation’s success or even the child’s well-being hardly register on the radar when held up against the perceived value of in-group traditions.

The more embattled parents feel in protecting their religious beliefs, for example, the more likely they will fight efforts to extend their children’s acceptance of broader cultural norms.

The increase in homeschooling is a product of this mindset. Homeschooling gained its first significant boost after forced integration. With the cultural changes of the 1960s and the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, it continued to pick up steam. From 2003 to 2007, the percentage of students whose parents resorted to homeschooling in order to provide religious or moral instruction increased from 72 percent to 83 percent. (Other reasons given for homeschooling included concerns about the school environment such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure and dissatisfaction with the academic instruction available at other schools.)

Germany, among others, has outlawed homeschooling for this very reason. But in the United States, Supreme Court decisions have found that parents have a right to homeschool their children or send them to private schools based on the definition of ‘liberty’ in the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The only saving grace of these court decisions was the finding that the extent and content of private or home schooling must meet standards set by the government. (See more here.)

Because of the ‘liberty’ protected in the high court’s rulings, not all homeschooling is equal. Each state has its own set of rules about what is or isn’t required for homeschooling. While homeschooling can produce thoughtful, well-rounded children ready to pursue life as a functional American citizen, many such efforts fail utterly to meet that goal. The end result is a significant population of undereducated adults. Currently about 3.5% of young people, or around two million, are homeschooled. A majority of this segment of our nation’s people poses a real and present danger to the future of the American way of life.

Which is just what their parents intended.

Critical skills such as the scientific method of investigation and logical reasoning processes are often left out of extremist curriculum, partly because the parents have never understood such things and therefore have no appreciation for the benefits they offer. For these reactionary parents, already threatened by their perception that valued cultural traditions are being eroded, the goal is not to provide an excellent education by academic standards which mesh with the rest of the nation and world but rather to insulate their children from those very things and thus preserve the norms of their in-group.

There seems no easy resolution. The most recent effort has been the development of Common Core Standards, a widely vilified move to bring clarity and commonality to the nation’s education systems including homeschool curricula. The result of a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.

These standards focus only on language arts and mathematics, unfortunately leaving aside a more ambitious (and contentious) goal of setting standards for such important subjects as history, social studies, or the sciences. The government’s method of enforcing these bare-bones standards is to withhold federal education funds from states which do not adopt the standards. Eight states have so far refused to adopt them, but the situation remains in flux.

Inevitably, American children fall through the cracks all the time. The Charleston assassin had advanced only as far as ninth grade, a fact which underscores his likely inability to reason clearly or appreciate the broad scope of the world around him. (As noted in a previous blog post, persons with low intelligence are more likely to nurture racial prejudices and view the world from a perspective of threat.)

At their most progressive moments, federal and state governments attempt to break into the cycle of poverty, ignorance, and entrenched in-group thinking. Whether the methods actually help is another question. For example, in an effort to reach children in at-risk populations, the U. S. Department of Education hands out vouchers through its Child Care Development Fund which parents can use anywhere including religious schools.

Such programs target children with at least one of the following characteristics: Family with gross income not exceeding 200% of federal poverty level; Has a demonstrable developmental delay as identified through screening; Parents without a high school diploma or GED; Eligible for services under IDEA[1]; Low birth weight (below 5 pounds, 9 ounces); Income eligible for Title I programs; Parent is under 18 years of age at child’s birth; Limited English Proficiency; Immediate family member has a history of substance abuse/addiction; Parent has history of abuse or neglect; Or is a victim of abuse or neglect.[2]

Noble goals. But by inadvertently encouraging the expansion of religious instruction, such programs may do more harm than good. In Arkansas, this avenue of government aid for children in need has become heavily trafficked by people on a religious mission.

Rep. Justin Harris’s preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, receives nearly a million tax dollars a year through such programs. Despite theoretical restrictions that religion cannot be part of the academic day, these schools teach religion in the hours before and after the academic day, taking advantage of the extra time children are in their care while parents remain at work. Further, the state’s only method of monitoring these schools for violations is through random inspections.

That’s effective. “Stop praying, the state is here.” Numerous current and former employees of Harris report that children who misbehave during the academic day are taken to the office where they are prayed over in order to cast out the demons causing their misbehavior.

The message inculcated in these young minds is that God is in charge and prayer is the answer.

Rational thought? Personal responsibility? It’s all up to God. Join God’s group and everything will be fine. Such early indoctrination easily leads to a continuation of the conditions that led to their qualification for such programs in the first place. Pregnant at 16? God’s will. Pray. Victim of domestic abuse? Women are to submit to their husband. Pray. Addicted to meth? I’m a sinner. Pray.

At the height of Mr. Harris’ public shaming over the rehoming and subsequent rape of his adopted six year old girl, his school’s signboard proclaimed his membership in his self-identified in-group: “God Himself will fight for you.” To date, Mr. Harris has not acknowledged that he did anything wrong.

In states with the highest populations of at-risk children, legislators in charge of determining everything from curriculum to school funding are increasingly drawn from the ranks of religious extremists. Unable or unwilling to see beyond the walls of their in-group, such legislators circle the wagons against ‘outsiders’ who attempt to set new standards or otherwise interfere with group identity. In Arkansas, the only entity legally empowered to remove Justin Harris from his elected office were his like-minded legislative colleagues. Despite evidence that he illegally used his elected position to gain adoption rights to the two girls he subsequently gave away, there was no investigation. He remains in office and his school remains in operation.

Nowhere in such arguments do we hear that professional educators should be in charge of deciding the best methods of education. (This makes about as much sense as allowing politicians to decide best accounting methods for CPAs or best construction methods for engineers.) A consensus among professional educators is that homeschooling often involves inadequate standards of academic quality and comprehensiveness, lack of socialization with peers of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the potential for development of religious or social extremism/individualism, and potential for development of parallel societies that do not fit into standards of citizenship and community.

Specifically because parents fear of loss of in-group values, professional educators do not control the purse strings or the programs. Children continue to be victims of their parents’ fears and prejudices, prey to the ebb and flow of political opinion. We continue, as a nation, to suffer the consequences.

What are the solutions?

I don’t pretend to have presented all points relevant to this complicated state of affairs. Nor are my proposed solutions an exhaustive or foolproof list.

But given the failure rate to date, I think it’s safe to say that religion does not and cannot serve as the unifying force for humanity.

What we need is for each person to develop so fully that his/her self-esteem and intellectual skill set outweighs the primal need for narrow in-group identification.

We need to invest in strategies which reduce perceived threats and increase opportunities to break down barriers between groups.

We need broader educational standards so that children in private and home schools have to pass tests for subjects including state, national, and world history; basics of scientific method and the facts of biology, geology, and other sciences; social studies—how government works, the role of voters. Parents need to be held accountable if 17-year-old homeschooled kids can’t pass key tests.

We must stand firm against attempts to teach Creationism as an alternative to science. We must eliminate tax funding which in any way supports religious instruction at any grade level.

We must find ways, both institutionally and personally, to facilitate in-group/out-group encounter sessions and counseling alongside cultural education at all grade levels.

We must end the war on drugs. Legalize and tax all of it. Get over the idea that government can dictate what people ingest to alter their consciousness or that altered consciousness is in itself a crime. Demilitarize our police forces and deliver our communities from the tyranny of criminal gangs. Use tax dollars currently wasted on bigger prisons along with new revenues produced from legal drug sales to initiate pro-active programs in support of early childhood health and education, family intervention in cases of abuse and neglect, substance abuse treatment, and free/low cost mental/physical health care in every community.

We must require a significant period of public service from young people. Such service would broaden the scope away from a family or church or racial in-groups and instead build ownership in the in-group of our nation.

Don’t agree with the actions of our current elected leaders? Don’t support the policies of our nation? The instrument of change lies in our hands. An informed, self-confident electorate can be—should be—the strength of America.

We can feel a bit of relief in the amazing power of television and the Internet to instill greater understanding of different lifestyles, different races, and unfamiliar cultures. Social media such as Facebook allows us to engage in constructive dialogue with members of out-groups without the immediate threat of physical violence. These are opportunities we must use carefully in order not to trigger an even more visceral in-group identification among the ‘other.’

Many of these things are already being done.

Finally, there’s this:

“…The data…demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’ that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards. The non-religious, pro-evolution democracies contradict the dictum that a society cannot enjoy good conditions unless most citizens ardently believe in a moral creator. The widely held fear that a Godless citizenry must experience societal disaster is therefore refuted. Contradicting these conclusions requires demonstrating a positive link between theism and societal conditions in the first world with a similarly large body of data – a doubtful possibility in view of the observable trends.”[3]

[1] http://idea.ed.gov/

[2] http://www.arkansased.org/public/userfiles/rules/Current/ade_257_Arkansas_Better_Chance_October_2012.pdf

[3] “National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies,” Gregory S. Paul. Journal of Religion & Society Volume 7 (2005) http://moses.creighton.edu/jrs/2005/2005-11.pdf Accessed June 19, 2015

A State of Perversion

Religion 0159Based on recent news emerging from Arkansas, a casual observer might assume that a child molester lurks around every corner right along with married cousins and toothless hillbillies. I’m sorry that my beloved native state suffers such disrepute, but the fact is, there’s truth in it. In March, a story came to light about Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris and his wife and how they had ‘rehomed’ two little girls they had adopted, one of whom was raped by the new ‘father.’ Most recently, last week a Duggar family skeleton involving incest and pedophilia emerged from the closet, resulting in the prompt suspension of their popular television show “19 Kids and Counting” which aired for years on TLC network.

Is there any connection between these horrific incidents? I think there is.

The Harrises and the Duggars are evangelical Christians. They have, each in their own way, placed themselves in the public eye to advocate on behalf of their faith. There’s risk in holding up oneself as an example, as they are finding out.

Justin Harris is serving his third term in the Arkansas Legislature where he has introduced conservative measures ranging from abortion restriction to denying funding to the state’s department of human services under the campaign promise to reduce government spending. He and his wife own and operate a preschool in his legislative district town of West Fork, a largely rural constituency with a high percentage of fundamentalist church followers. Alongside the alphabet and fingerpainting, Mr. Harris’ school teaches religion.

In 2012, Harris found himself on the hot seat after a formal complaint was filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Seems Mr. No Government Funding had his hand in the public till by obtaining grant funding for his preschool. Over a million dollars had flowed into his coffers, courtesy of a state agency charged with providing tax monies in support of preschools that addressed the needs of ‘underserved’ youth. Originating through the Arkansas Department of Education, federal and state taxes are channeled to the Department of Human Services (DHS) and its ABC program (Arkansas Better Chance), which awards grants based on a lengthy list of criteria including family income.

Mr. Harris mounted a vigorous and outraged defense of his right to all that money. He brought in a team of attorneys from Arizona who specialized in defending schools who want to teach Jesus on the public dime. Subsequently, the ABC program promulgated a set of rules specifically addressing the issue of religious instruction. It is unknown whether the ‘solution’ was put forth by the Arizona attorneys, modeled on rules operating in other states, or sprang from a singular Arkansas process, but the novel approach defines an ‘ABC day’ as a set number of hours of purely secular instruction. Whether religious instruction occurs before the ABC day commences or after it ends would not be the state’s concern.

Since then, Mr. Harris has expanded his operation and state funding approaches a million dollars annually. His students arrive as early as 7:30 a.m. and leave as late as 6 p.m. The ABC day begins at 9 and lasts until 3. Before and after, it’s all about Jesus.

Soon after the flap over school funding, the Harrises—who already had three sons—decided to adopt little three girls whose dysfunctional family had lost custody. The girls were fairly well adjusted in a foster home, but the natural mother allegedly made a personal plea to Justin Harris. This arguably admirable effort left many to question Harris’ quick use of the girls in a family portrait promoting his re-election campaign (a violation of adoption policy), the nearly $30,000 tax break that came with the adoption, and the monthly stipend allotted to Harris in the form of state support. Clearly, the adoption wasn’t all about benevolence.

Firmly fixated on the adoption idea, the Harrises refused to listen to DHS field agents who reported that the girls would not be suitable in the Harris household. With all the arrogance befitting a person who believed God directed his acts, Harris apparently used his elected office to pressure DHS to approve the adoption. Local caseworkers opposed to the adoption mysteriously changed their recommendation after their boss advocated on the Harris’ behalf. That Justin Harris held a powerful position in the legislative committee which controlled DHS funding seems never to have been examined as a possible contributor to this department head’s advocacy, which resulted in a local juvenile court judge granting the adoption. Unfortunately, because the case involves adoption, DHS has not released any information.

Within a year, the Harrises decided to ‘rehome’ the girls to another family. By early 2014, one of the girls had been raped by her new ‘father,’ Eric Cameron Francis. Later that year, Francis would be convicted of multiple counts of child abuse and is currently serving time. As it turns out, Francis had been an employee at the Harris preschool and his wife was good friends with Mrs. Harris. Not surprisingly, Harris chose to stay quiet about his role in placing the victim in the Francis home until a reporter from the Arkansas Times connected the dots. The story went public in March 2015.

When the adoption/rehoming scandal broke, Harris held a press conference as reported by the Arkansas Times. He presented himself and his family as the damaged party.

“The older girl, who would have been about 6 years old at the time she entered the Harris household, presented an imminent danger to his older three sons, Harris said. DHS ultimately placed the child into a hospital after just a few months of living with the family, and the Harrises did not proceed with the planned adoption [of that child]. He also said the younger sisters, ages 4 and 2 when they entered the Harris home, were violent. He said one of the girls — the implication was the middle sister — had to be medicated to stop hurting her sister, and that he was advised by therapists to treat her RAD [Reactive Attachment Disorder] by removing toys and other belongings from her room.

“After one of the two younger girls crushed a family pet to death, Harris said, he and his wife were advised by “a therapist, a psychiatrist and a pediatrician” to remove the children from the Harris home. He said he sought DHS assistance at that time but was given none. He said he thought he’d found the “perfect solution” in handing the girls over to Stacey Francis, a longtime friend of his wife’s, and her husband, Eric Cameron Francis. Eric Francis is serving 40 years in prison on charges of raping the child.”

[Francis had also been a children’s church group leader in Northwest Arkansas and abused other children besides the Harris adoptee.]

The foster family who had custody of the girls prior to the Harris involvement repudiated Harris’ allegations about the girls. They said the girls had been kind and loving, happy to be in a solid home situation and eager for affection. Other witnesses came forth to give similar statements. Unfortunately, no one other than the Arkansas Times has investigated the facts of this case, and since the Arkansas Legislature is the only agency with authority to remove Harris, he remains in public office despite a petition demanding his resignation signed by over 5000 people.

Within a month of the revelation that Arkansas DHS had no rule or restriction on the rehoming of adopted children, the state legislature passed a law making rehoming a felony. Harris voted for the bill, in essence making himself a retroactive felon. He resigned from the chairmanship of the public health committee, but failed to yield his legislative seat. He has also refused to accept any responsibility for the little girl’s sexual abuse. At the peak of this fiasco, his school billboard proclaimed that “God Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

Throughout the intense scrutiny on Harris and his failure as an adoptive parent, a considerable body of information has come to light about ongoing religious activities at his preschool. Although random spot inspections by the state theoretically rule out the chance of illegal religious activity during the ‘ABC day,’ reports from former teachers and others allege that children who misbehave are routinely taken to the office where they are prayed over to ‘cast out demons.’ Harris has made efforts to gain official approval for singing religious songs during the lunch hour, since this was not an education period. It’s unclear at present exactly what level of religious activity occurs during the tax-funded ‘ABC day.’ Apparently the state isn’t all that eager to find out.

With the name of “Growing God’s Kingdom,” the school certainly should have received intense scrutiny from agencies charged with the responsibility of appropriately dispensing tax dollars. Instead, as previously stated, the state had blissfully doled out funds not only to the Harris school but also to several other religion-teaching preschools across the state, some of which were owned and operated by others elected to public office. And they continue to do so.

Currently, the new Republican governor Asa Hutchinson and the first-time-since-Reconstruction majority Republican legislature have passed a special dispensation to allow one of those religious pre-school owners/elected officials, Johnny Key, to serve as head of the state education department. The governor, himself a conservative religionist, formerly served as a member of Congress during which time he led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton for his indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky. At the same time, Asa’s brother Tim Hutchinson held elected office as a U.S. Senator. It came to light after the impeachment that Christian family man Tim had been carrying on an affair with his legislative director, Randi Fredholm, whom he married as soon as he divorced his wife. Lucky for him, no one initiated impeachment proceedings.

After the Harris rehoming debacle erupted, a bevy of complaints about DHS surfaced, especially about adoption practices. Governor Hutchinson appointed a special investigator to examine the department’s policies and procedures. While it is too early to say as the investigation results are due any day now, a cynical bystander might assume that the governor’s investigation will not examine whether Harris abused his office to obtain the adoption.

Also unclear is the legality of Arkansas preschool operations which comingle the Bible and education. Queries to the compliance office at DHS receive less than informative replies. For example, a recent question asked whether there is a viability test (for preschools which include religious instruction) to determine whether religious instruction could exist without tax funding of the ‘ABC day.’ Local contributions, the only funding that can be legally used for religious teaching, comprise only ten percent of the school’s funding. Would that ten percent be enough to provide the facilities and support needed to provide religious education?

No one knows. DHS confirmed that there is no viability test.

Like Justin Harris, the Duggar father Jim Bob served a stint in the state legislature, elected from a conservative district near Springdale. (The geographical distance between West Fork and Springdale is about twenty miles.) Duggar gained media recognition after his wife Michelle produced their twelfth child (or at some count along in there). Their home-schooled family has promoted themselves as the model for clean Christian living as Michelle continued to squeeze out another Duggar clone every other year. While Duggar originally supported his tribe through used car sales, the income from their television appearances superseded used cars sometime around 2010. It helped the bottom line that the family became a hot ticket item for talk shows and other celebrity circuit events.

Well, probably not so much since last week, when it became known that the Duggar’s oldest son Josh had been sexually molesting his younger sisters and other young females unfortunate enough to spend the night at the Duggar family home. The story first came to the parents’ attention in March 2002 when one of Josh’s victims came crying to her parents about his nighttime visits to her bedroom. He admitted his bad behavior and was disciplined. Four months later, he admitted to more of the same. More discipline.

The family had adopted ‘basic life principle’ instruction from Bill Gothard’s “Advanced Training Institute for Homeschooling.” As advised by Gothard, persons involved in a sexual abuse situation shouldn’t ask why God let it happen but instead consider what the abused person did wrong, such as dress immodestly, indecently expose the body, or hang out with evil friends. Further, “if the abused is not at fault,’ he/she should welcome the gift of gaining spiritual strength from the experience.

[Mr. Gothard resigned in March 2014 after female employees alleged over thirty incidents of sexual abuse. Evidently, they didn’t find their ‘gift’ of spiritual strength sufficiently rewarding to offset the experience of Mr. Gothard’s harassment.]

In March 2003 the now fifteen-year-old Josh Duggar was again outed by his siblings that he was still slipping into his sisters’ bedrooms at night to fondle their breasts and genitals. His touching also occurred on the living room couch, in the laundry room, and on at least one occasion, outside the home. At this point, the father arranged for Josh to spend three months with a family friend in Little Rock who put Josh to work helping remodel a house.

Upon his return home, his father took him to speak with an officer of the Arkansas State Police. It seems Corporal Hutchens was selected for good reasons. He did not file an official report despite a mandatory reporting requirement for law enforcement officers in such cases. Rather, the young man was subjected to a “very stern talk.”

[Subsequently, unrelated to his dereliction of duty in the Duggar case, the now 69-year-old Hutchins is serving a 56-year sentence for repeated child pornography.]

No doubt everyone prayed over everyone’s demons.

The cover-up of Josh Duggar’s pedophilia continued over the years until the statute of limitations had run for any sexual abuse charge. Then, triggered by a note that came to light in 2006 describing these activities, the local police department interviewed all family members and established a record. That too would remain a secret during the coming years including during a 2014 campaign funded and led by the Duggars in an effort to overturn a city ordinance passed in the neighboring city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which established anti-discrimination protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people seeking housing, employment, etc. Michelle Duggar personally narrated a robo-call that urged the ordinance’s overthrow because under the law, she alleged, a transgender male could get into the women’s bathroom and sexually molest little girls.

Oh, the irony.

Die-hard supporters of Justin Harris and Josh Duggar lament that everyone is casting aspersions on them when they’ve asked Jesus for forgiveness and promised never to rehome or molest again. Duggar fans vow to boycott TLC programs until the “19 Kids and Counting” show returns to the air. They’ll probably be waiting a long time. Reportedly General Mills, one of the show’s top sponsors, made it abundantly clear to TLC that they would not be in that parade. Pundits remark that the Duggar explosion “taints the whole brand.”

One can only hope. Never mind that for years the Duggars have made a sickening spectacle of indiscriminate and unconscionable reproductive excess. Never mind that a more caring and responsible approach to a large family, assuming one absolutely must have a house full of children, would be to produce one or two of your own gene pool and then, for God’s sake, adopt some of the many children languishing in adoption facilities and foster homes here and around the world.

Above all else, the hypocrisy involved in the Harris and Duggar stories staggers the imagination. While firmly denying funding to DHS based on his campaign promise to reduce government spending, Mr. Harris fought for government handouts to fund his religious school in spite of the fact that he knew he was breaking the law by teaching religion in a tax-supported program. As an elected person who held himself up as an example of Christian righteousness, he should have been the first person to recognize he was crossing the line between church and state as delineated in the U. S. Constitution. Instead, assuming he understood the thrust of the Founding Fathers’ intent, he no doubt privately justified his behavior with his belief that God willed it.

francis

Eric Francis, intake photograph at time of arrest, Benton County, Arkansas. 2014

We’re left to wonder if rehoming was God’s will. Or if God wanted that already traumatized six-year-old little girl to suffer rape at the hands Eric Francis.

Similarly, the Duggars must have decided that hiding Josh’s sexual perversion was God’s wish. After all, they undoubtedly prayed on it and God didn’t say to tell. The family had a mission to spread the Good Word to the world via their television show. Even a moron could figure out that TLC probably wouldn’t like to hear about Josh’s nighttime recreation. The Duggars called in favors from local friends and church members to sidestep the law. They failed to put Josh in the hands of a professional therapist who might have helped the young man overcome his predilection for sexually assaulting young children.

As it is, Josh now has a captive audience within his own family and only God knows whether he manages to resist the temptation to fondle them. We can only guess whether his sisters and other victims of his teenage abuse have received any professional help. Chances are, they prayed on it.

Underlying this sickening avalanche of news about Harris and the Duggars is a growing national problem. The evangelical right believes in demons, and they believe that praying can send the demons packing. The implicit teaching from infancy onward is that we as individuals are not responsible for our acts, but rather it’s those damn demons who creep in when we’re not looking. If we can just send those demons away, we’ll be smiled upon by Jesus and everything will be fine.

This kind of simplistic medieval thinking lies behind the ability of political handlers to capture votes from the evangelical demographic. The compelling argument is that demons rule the ‘other’ party, that gay marriage, abortion, and other private activities are the proper province of political action, and only by voting for Mr. Righteous can we satisfy the will of God. So far self-sustaining through multiple election cycles, this obsessed minority turn out to vote in numbers unlike other less fanatical segments of the population. In the most recent Arkansas election, the prevailing vote represented about 30% of the eligible voter base.

By voting sympathetic legislators into office, adherents are able to skirt the intent of the law that requires no tax dollars be spent in promoting religion and to place compatriots in positions of authority such as, in Arkansas, to head the state’s entire educational system. Johnny Key does not hold the master’s degree or ten years experience as a teacher which, until the 2015 actions of the Arkansas governor and legislature, would have barred him from serving the state’s top education post. Now, as long as the number two man meets those requirements, the state can put a favored religious legislator in the top slot.

Further, evangelical right wingers are able to spawn a network of pseudo-professional responses to serious matters of sexual abuse and direct the blame for such abuse toward the abused.

Fundamentally, the movement toward dozens of children, homeschooling, and the non-response to incestuous sexual molestation has to do with—at least in part—the liberation of women from their long history as male property. I’ve recently learned that my own great-grandfather molested one of my aunts, and probably many more, but none of this was discussed openly, nor was any action taken. It was his ‘right’ as the patriarch to thump his Bible and fiddle one of his pretty little ‘properties’ on the side. The aunt herself did not speak of it until old age, at which time she shared it with her sisters. Some of those sisters chose not to believe it really happened and continue to attend fundamentalist churches where women are not allowed to speak.

There are many features of modern life that scare the hell out of those who simply cannot understand science or other changes increasingly widespread in the world. Our technology and culture have evolved faster than our mental or physical state. Everything is too fast and too complicated. It’s only been a hundred years since picking peas and saddling a horse served as the requisite skill set to get through life.

Obviously not all evangelical Christians sexually abuse children or try to use tax dollars in support of religious education. However, a study examining the correlation between fundamentalism and such abuses would be interesting. A January 2014 article in Psychology Today summarized several studies which found positive correlation between low I.Q. and religious belief. One result of the studies was the conclusion “that conservative and fundamentalist religious beliefs can discourage learning.”

From ignorance comes fear, and for many fundamentalists, fear rules the day. Fomenting that fear serves a calculated political purpose that ultimately assures that power rests in the hands of the super-rich. The success of their calculation is demonstrated in increasingly skewed wealth distribution and an exponential increase in fear mongering.

For many, especially in southern states where low income and poor education help spawn the idea that cultivated ignorance is a form of virtue, the solution is to crawl back into the Middle Ages and believe that the problem is abortion, minorities, immigration, or homosexuality. We’re in real danger of allowing this misbegotten movement to gain power over our schools, political structures, and way of life. As long as the system loops back on itself with brainwashing in the early years and rejection of any understanding beyond their closed belief system, the Taliban is looking more and more like a local organization.