MEAN (and stupid)

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There are six definitions of the word ‘mean’ as an adjective, according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary.  Trump voters fit all of them. Stupid, too.

There may be a day when I can philosophize about the outcome of this election, but today is not one of them. I’m deeply angry that the progress we’ve made as a culture has been stopped with the stated objective of turning back the clock. I’m terrified that my sick and dying friends will lose health care. I’m heartbroken that friends who married same sex partners may now face complete loss of their legal rights. And so much more.

The election of white trash to the White House rode on the backs of evangelicals who were willing to ignore Trump’s adultery, profanity, sexual assault, lack of respect for women, intellectual poverty, and pathological narcissism in order to accomplish one of their long term goals: make abortion illegal. In doing so, they believed they could put the genie back in the bottle and return women to their rightful place in the home, barefoot and pregnant.

Meanness: penurious, stingy, characterized by petty selfishness or malice. Eager to judge women who face one of the most traumatic and difficult decisions of her lifetime. Willing to sacrifice her life in order to save a fetus.

Stupid: given to unintelligent decisions or acts. Assuming that a radical right appointment to the SCOTUS somehow guarantees that Roe v Wade will be overturned. Ignoring that a woman’s right to privacy in this matter has been upheld many times even by conservative justices.

Stupid: slow of mind. Not understanding that women have always aborted unwanted pregnancies and always will, whether or not the laws of the nation allow them access to legal medical care.

In a Pavlovian response to four decades of careful brainwashing, evangelical voters convinced themselves that God wanted Donald Trump elected, that Trump was blessed, taken to the bosom of God, forgiven his sins, and worthy of being elevated to the nation’s highest office. Preached illegally in the nation’s tax exempt churches, this sermon echoes off the lips of evangelicals.

After all, Trump must be blessed by God because he’s rich. Bow down to the rich man who was born with a silver white-supremacist spoon in his mouth.

Giddy in their hallucinations, evangelicals dismiss questions about Trump’s character. Believe he never really molested women, never incited violence. Because we all know that a seventy-year-old man rich guy who never took responsibility for anything in his life is going to suddenly become completely different. Because, well, God.

Stupid: slow witted or dazed state of mind

Mean: lacking distinction; a poor shabby inferior quality or status.

Meanness characterizes much of the Trump base. Arrogant in their narrow-minded thinking—I don’t care what anybody says, I’m right. Proud of their willful ignorance—Don’t bother me with facts, my mind’s made up. Enshrined in the character and mindset of now Vice President Pence who refutes the scientific theory of evolution and wants to force women to fund funerals for miscarried fetuses. Yes, the epitome of male privilege.

Stupid: thickheaded imperviousness to ideas

According to exit polls, Trump was pretty much elected by older, married, small town, white, conservative Christian males making $50,000 or more. These are the men who hate women having power and parity. They hate Hispanics and Blacks for thinking they’re somehow equal. They’ll do anything to try to recapture that Elysian field where they rode tall in the saddle and the world was theirs for the taking.

In the narrow primitive view of this group of men, every freedom won by the disabled, women, minorities, or gays directly threatens their righteous authority. Their God-given authority. Because for these spiritually impoverished men, without someone to look down on, how could they possibly stand above?

Because after all, granting women reproductive rights took control of women away from men.

Because after all, God Himself is a white male.

Stupid: lacking intelligence or reason.

Mean: worthy of little regard; contemptible.

The election of white trash to the White House sprang from a cesspool of hatred toward anyone not like them. Hate spawned by ignorance ignited by fear. Names hard to pronounce. Unusual appearances. Hatred of anyone not white, not Christian, not heterosexual or clearly gendered. Hatred of anything they don’t understand.

Anything that doesn’t look like them in the mirror.

There’s a tight correlation between the mindset of Trump voters and the fact that the states they represent rank near the bottom in per capita income, economic growth, and citizen rights and near the top in teen pregnancy, poor health, and persons with addiction and/or disabilities.

People who have little to no experience with the operations of government—at any level—are the ones who claim government is corrupt, the ones who believe that dismantling government will solve their problems, that electing a sleazy real estate developer on his third wife will somehow make all their dreams come true.

These are the same brilliant lights who never learned about the balance of powers, the history of political parties in the U.S., or the background of any nation past or present. They’re arrogant, ill-informed armchair quarterbacks looking for quick and easy targets for their discontent.

Stupid: resulting from unreasoned thinking.

Not making enough money? Must be the government’s fault. Couldn’t possibly be that your skill set simply doesn’t match up with jobs that pay a hundred grand a year. Couldn’t possibly mean that the world has moved forward and you need to retrain to fit the new job market.

No, better to stop the world and go back. How far back? Back to horse drawn wagons?

Not happy with social changes that disrupt your comfort zone? Those g**damn government bastards. Couldn’t possibly be that other humans have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness just like white guys—yeah, those minorities, women, and weirdos who freak you out.

Not happy that your religion doesn’t rule the nation? Couldn’t possibly be that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution specifically to keep religion out of government.

Yet while foaming at the mouth about putting God back in ‘Merica, all these Christian folks can’t wait to terminate the Affordable Care Act. Go back to the good old days when insurance companies could deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, when sick people lost their homes and everything they owned because they couldn’t afford health care. When the poor simply died without medical treatment.

What are the poor anyway but failed humans obviously unloved by God. Who don’t try hard enough. Who have something wrong with them. They don’t deserve to be helped.

Let’s elect Trump because he promises to end the ACA his first day in office.

There’s nothing Christian in denying sick people legal access to health care. It’s simply mean to do so.

But let’s go back to a nation ruled by prejudice when women, blacks, gays, Mexicans and anyone else outside the white male norm could be beaten or murdered with impunity. Let’s get rid of the idea that each person possesses inherent rights. Let’s make America great again.

Mean: “Ignoble, abject, sordid mean being below the normal standards of human decency and dignity, suggests having such repellent characteristics as small-mindedness and ill temper, lack of some essential high quality of mind or spirit.”

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A Year Later — Justin Harris

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Last year I blogged about a “State of Perversion” in Arkansas. The news broke with a sensational expose by the Arkansas Times on our local state representative Justin Harris. Now a year from his outing, this seems an appropriate time to check on how far we’ve come. (Or haven’t.)

Here, in part, is what I wrote:

“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.

  • UPDATE: Since the scandal broke, Mr. Harris announced he would not run for another term. However, he refused to resign, meaning he continues to serve at the state capitol until January 2017. Even more disgusting has been the utter and abject failure of any Republican legislator to criticize Mr. Harris.

“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…

“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.

  • UPDATE: An exchange of information with Americans United for Separation of Church and State reveals that under current federal guidelines, states can use tax dollars in this way. Apparently there’s no compelling interest in establishing a viability test where a school would have to prove that its religious instruction could exist separately without the use of tax dollars. In the case of the Harris school, if tax dollars didn’t support the rent, utilities, and salaries for operations, the school would cease to exist. Repeated questioning of DHS money managers produced zero interest in developing or implementing such a test.
  • Likewise, we can hardly expect much interest for reform among current members of Congress who quake in fear of the Religious Right. Closing a loophole that recruits so many young minds to their way of thinking is simply not to be considered even if that loophole stands in clear violation of the U. S. Constitution.

“Soon after the flap over school funding, the Harrises…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.”

  • UPDATE: Unfortunately, nothing is known to have changed regarding inappropriate legislator influence over DHS activities. But the incident does reveal the ugly underbelly of an organized evangelical movement to adopt children. The objective is two-fold: provide a viable argument against abortion rights for women and brainwash vulnerable youngsters to extremist religious views.

“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.

“…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.

  • UPDATE: Harris never publicly accepted responsibility for the harm inflicted on these girls. While his initial reaction seemed to portray him and his wife as the aggrieved parties, his last public statement on the issue included a comment to the effect that he felt sad about what happened to the girls…as if he personally had nothing to do with it.
  • ABC News produced a close-up on the Harris adoption scandal. The report failed to address the ignored caseworker input and accepted at face value the excuse of Reactive Attachment Disorder. In response, a statement from a collective of mental health professionals criticized the ABC report and refuted RAD as a legitimate diagnosis.
  • On a more promising note, however, the girls are reportedly well adjusted in their new post-Harris adoptive home. And newly-elected Governor Asa Hutchinson saw fit to accept the resignation of the head of DHS and has hired a new person to fill this slot. He has also instigated a complete revamping of the department.

“Harris 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…Eric Cameron Francis. Eric Francis is serving 40 years in prison on charges of raping the child.”

  • UPDATE: Justin Harris has continued to hire questionable employees to care for the vulnerable young children attending his preschool. A school bus driver failed to notice that a child remained on the bus. The child was not discovered until early afternoon. Fortunately, the temperature remained fairly mild that day and the van was parked in the shade. The child suffered no ill effects. Nevertheless, the driver was prosecuted. The Harrises fired the driver immediately upon discovery of the incident and accepted no responsibility even though the school failed to abide by its own protocols in checking attendance which would have discovered the missing child.
  • Additionally, word has leaked out that another male employee was fired in December 2015 for inappropriate contact with the students. Seems the Harrises might need to employ better screening methods for prospective employees other than learning whether the candidate regularly attends church.

“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.’”

  • UPDATE: Happily for all of us in South Washington County who must drive past the Harris pre-school on a daily basis, the school’s outside billboard has remained empty of Godly exhortations since the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, with the exception of a brief period during Christmas.

“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…’

  • UPDATE: There’s been no official (or unofficial) statement from any elected leader or state agency on the use of prayer to cast demons out of misbehaving youngsters. Why would it be so difficult to issue a blanket policy statement about the negative impact on young minds of promoting the belief that demons might inhabit a person or that such demons, rather than oneself, is the party responsible for misbehavior?

“…While firmly denying funding to DHS based on his campaign promise to reduce government spending, Mr. Harris (as legislator) 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…

“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.

“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.

  • UPDATE: Which brings us to the candidacy of Donald Trump. Although no one would claim that Trump is a model of evangelical righteousness, he embodies another characteristic evidently more important to the religious right: the ability to dominate. Of almost equal importance is Trump’s wealth, which evangelicals view as God’s gift to a righteous man.
  • Just as the religious right’s concept of a Supreme Being embodies power and arrogance, so does Trump. By reflecting back the anger, fear, and blind hatred toward those unlike themselves, Trump approaches the brink of gaining the Republican nomination for president. The collusion of willful ignorance and the result of years of religious education (versus education based on logic and fact) now stands before us.

One final encouraging note: Justin and Marsha Harris’ West Fork home is up for sale. It may be asking too much, but one can hope that at least this one preschool operation will be taken over by an educator, not another evangelist, and that the children there will learn rational thought along with their ABCs.

Finally, we’re pleased to note that Mr. Harris earned the top ‘dick’ award for 2015.

Coming soon…an update on the Duggar family’s equally outrageous 2015.

 

First, We’re Democrats

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An emerging narrative from Bernie supporters alleges that the Baby Boomer generation ‘shit all over’ the younger folks and now it’s time for us to step out of the way. The militant rhetoric evidently serves as a potent recruiting tool. Too bad it’s completely bogus.

Yes, there are some of the Sixties generation who tuned in, turned on, and then made a U-turn in the middle of Main Street to become some of the greediest, most soulless people on the planet. But a few rotten apples did not spoil the whole barrel. The rest of us accomplished amazing things for which we have yet to receive any credit.

To you newbies dissing the Boomers, shut the f*** up and think about this: that yoga meditation that you enjoy? We brought you that. Your baby delivered by a midwife? We gave you that. Those organic salad greens you just bought at your local supermarket? Yeah, us.

The reason you male members of the Bernie True Believers haven’t been drafted and sent to the Middle East with a rifle in your hand is that we forced an end to the draft. We were the generation that lost nearly sixty thousand of our brothers and lovers in Vietnam and spilled our own blood in the streets to make it stop.

You female members of the Bernie True Believers are empowered to be out there on the streets with your political action groups largely because we burned our bras and filled university and government buildings with our sit-ins demanding equal pay and equal rights. We didn’t settle for an apron and dust mop. We elbowed our way into the mainstream.

We pushed our reproductive agenda and got a Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. We celebrated our freedom to choose with new technology like birth control pills, so that whatever child was born was a wanted child. We pushed aside the obstetricians with their convenient forceps deliveries and anesthetized mothers and birthed our babies into darkened rooms where the fathers were part of the experience. You were floated in warm baths and held to our breasts in a revolution of childbirth every bit as radical as any Bernie slogan.

We demanded clean food free of pesticides and additives and organized our own food cooperatives. We trucked in hard-to-find organic produce and flour. Many of us went back to the land to raise organic beef and grow our own gardens where our children could eat fresh peas straight off the vine.

We cast aside centuries of misogynist religion to embrace the greater spiritual power of the Universe. Did you think your yoga studio appeared out of the Fifties like Athena sprang from the forehead of Zeus? No—we traveled to India. We read the books. We followed the gurus in order to reframe our embrace of the Divine.

We shared our dorm rooms, our jobs, and our farms with gay men and lesbians, strenghtened their public arrival with our acceptance in spite of the brutality that they encountered in the rest of society. We opened our homes to African Americans and other minorities and joined in their protests. We saw all people as our kinsmen.

We are the reason you can access acupuncture and Asian medicine, holistic practitioners, therapeutic massage, and the proliferation of alternative medicines that spread before you today like a feast-laden table. We sought out health in a world filled with sickness, in world where ‘medicine’ fulfilled all we knew about healing.

We took our children to protests, meetings, and hearings. You played outside in the sunshine while we stuffed envelopes and called friends. We changed the world without social media or computers.

We sacrificed days, weeks, even years of our lives in the fight to save our forests and oceans, our waterways and air from pollution. We fought for the whales and the wolves. We wrote letters, stood in cold wind and glaring sun with our signs, took up residence in trees. The environmental protection you may take for granted came about because of us.

We had help from older generations. Some of them fought to the end just like us. We’re still fighting. Many Baby Boomers are active in Bernie’s campaign.

Whatever disconnect exists between what the Boomers accomplished and the platform from which you launch your tirade is not because the Boomers failed. The disconnect derives from the same power brokers who manipulate every new generation into following certain paths. We called it The Man, The Machine. Their message? If you want the new car, the nice house, all the toys, then you’ll toe the line. Pass the drug tests. Conform.

The history of any war is written by the victors. In the still-simmering culture wars, the corporations want you to see us as the enemy. You have to dig deep to uncover the fullness of what I’ve said here in a few words. You want to change the world? Join the club.

Just keep in mind that because Bernie says all the right things doesn’t mean he’ll lead you to victory. Maybe you’ve never heard about our work for McGovern, walking door to door, keeping faith that we could usher in a New Age. In 1968, we never saw Daly’s henchmen coming or the disaster that would befall the Democrats as a result of that convention. We didn’t anticipate the backlash, all the haters and religionists ready to answer the clarion call of the corporate machine. We invested our future in the hope and change promised by Democrats and watched in horror as Richard Nixon won two terms.

Maybe you never understood what happened to our next great hope, Jimmy Carter. It’s instructive to review how he lost to Ronald Reagan:

  • Carter later wrote that the most intense and mounting opposition to his policies came from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which he attributed to Ted Kennedy’s ambition to replace him as president. Kennedy surprised his supporters by running a weak campaign, and Carter won most of the primaries and secured renomination. However, Kennedy had mobilized the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which gave Carter weak support in the fall election. (Wiki)

Or the loss of Al Gore not because George W. Bush was such a stunning candidate, but because the Democratic left wing blindly flew to support Ralph Nader and his pie in the sky oblivious to the very real possibility that by splitting the progressive vote, a Republican would win. Perhaps some of this language will sound familiar to Bernie fans:

  • Nader’s campaign rejected both parties as institutions dominated by corporate interests, stating that Al Gore and George W. Bush were “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” A long list of notable celebrities spoke [in his favor]. The campaign also had some prominent union help… (Wiki)

FYI, that could happen again. All the visceral emotion you’re feeling now about us, about Hillary as our ‘representative,’ you’re feeling that for more reasons than you may realize. For over two decades it’s been the Republican end game against a woman they’ve always known could be a successful president.

If their first-wave tactics work, you’ll bring Bernie a successful nomination. Then they’ll begin their second wave, this time against Bernie: Socialism. Higher Taxes. Universal Healthcare. Lions, tigers and bears, oh my! In November, a Republican candidate will win.

You may live in a bubble where pot is legal, polyamory is accepted, and social progress is a straight line from here to there, but you haven’t faced the reality that 70% of the population still identifies as Christian. A third of those folks are evangelical, meaning they will show up and they will vote no matter what you do. They are the active force behind the Republicans, agitated and directed by the corporate money masters.

Your disdain for the Baby Boomers is the result of their careful plan. You like Bernie? So do I. Want to make him president? Go for it. Just keep in mind that if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, you’ll have a choice. If the Machine is successful, you’ll be so angry at the Boomer generation and Hillary in particular, you’ll not vote for anyone but Bernie.

By indulging your cleverly fomented rage and refusing to support a Democratic candidate other than Bernie, you will play right into the hands of the machine. Another Nixon-Reagan-Bush waits in the wings.

So cultivate your anger with knowledge. Wake up to the real history of the Boomer generation. We had big hopes too. But just because all our goals weren’t completely met doesn’t mean we’ve failed. We’ve moved the ball forward. We welcome you to the fight.

But don’t forget–we’re not the enemy.

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.