Nel's New Day

March 8, 2015

Christians Need to Protect Children

Filed under: Religion — trp2011 @ 8:06 PM
Tags: , , ,

Arkansas is strongly conservative with Republicans taking 70 percent of the legislative seats. It is also 86 percent Christian, with a large number of fundamentalists, especially in the Southern Baptist Convention. These are the people who violently opposed marriage equality and support some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the United States, claiming that they are protecting the fetuses. These are also the people who support a man who gives away his adopted children.

In California, a person cannot give away a pet once it has been formally adopted from an agency, but in Arkansas, people can give away children.  That’s what state Rep. Justin Harris did last year when he and his wife “gifted” their adopted six-year-old and three-year-old daughters to Eric Cameron Francis, a man who was fired after only three months as a teacher at the Christian preschool owned by the Harrises. When that didn’t work out, they gave the girls to Francis’ wife before switching them on to another family.

This practice of “rehoming” is legal in the state. The adoptive parents don’t even have to notify the Department of Human Services that the children have been given away. Harris’ actions didn’t become publicly known until an anonymous caller reported the “rehoming” and said that the Harrises “continued to accept adoption subsidy money even after giving the children away.”

While Francis had the two girls, he sexually abused the six-year-old girl. No one in the case is talking. Francis, now sentenced to prison for 40 years after admitting his crime, doesn’t want to look at the past. He said, “I’ve got to move on with my life.” His ex-wife, who divorced him last August, has left the state. The Harrises think that they are victims who are being persecuted. At a press conference, Harris said that “his family was failed by DHS.” When the Harrises’ connection with Francis was revealed at Francis’ trial, Harris told a reporter who questioned him, “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” Their lawyer released a statement stating that “Rep. and Mrs. Harris have suffered a severe injustice.”

Arkansas House Speaker Jeremy Gillam said that Harris will face no repercussions for his rehoming because the Speaker just wants to move forward. Harris supporters argued that he couldn’t have done anything wrong because of his religious beliefs. “[Harris is] a dedicated Christian” and “a family man with the highest integrity who cares deeply for the welfare of children,” said House Republican Majority Leader Ken Bragg.

Harris has claimed that they had originally taken three sisters but had not kept the oldest, an eight-year-old. He also declared that the family was afraid that the two remaining girls would kill them. Instead of notifying DHS about problems, however, he gave them away. Harris has had some problems with the agency in the past because the state had questioned the mandated religious curriculum at his preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom, that receives public funding under the Arkansas Better Chance program. DHS warned Harris that children could not be required to participate in religious instruction if he wanted to receive public funding.

As a legislator, Harris has direct influence over the DHS budget and serves on the Joint Budget Committee which oversees all appropriations for state agencies. He also serves on the influential House Education Committee. A year later, Harris is still vice chair of the Committee on Aging, Children and Youth, Legislative and Military Affairs, and Legislative Audit. He claims that both a psychiatrist and a pediatrician advised him to move the children to another home without telling anyone so that he would avoid abandonment charges.

A small-government conservative who claims that government spending never created one job, he owns a daycare business that operates almost totally on taxpayer-subsidized tuition. Of the almost $900,000 he annually receives for operating his school, all but six percent comes from state and federal dollars because of a program focusing on developmentally disabled and poor children. Harris and his wife annually get $60,000 in salary and benefits in addition to mortgage payments on his privately owned building with rents going to the Harrises.

While Harris pushed a bill to deny state services and in-state tuition to all Arkansas residents without proof of U.S. citizenship or legal immigration, his preschool took government subsidies for about a dozen preschoolers with none of this documentation. When Americans United for the Separation of Church and State lodged a complaint against Harris’ school for its Christian curriculum, Harris said that parents had the option of keeping their children out of daily prayers and Bible readers. After that he tried to skirt the law by having students sing the prayers instead of saying them. When the program providing the funding said that state funds could not be spend on religious instruction during the school day, Harris claimed that he would change prayers and religious instruction to after school although Harris advertised that children would receive religious instruction.

This past week he introduced a bill to remove requirements for sprinklers or other fire suppression systems in daycare facilities unless they have “commercial cooking equipment.” He has also introduced a bill adding to the state’s mandate for parental consent for minors who want to get an abortion: his bill would more strictly limit how judges would handle requests from pregnant minors who petition courts to get an abortion without parental consent. Currently a judge can allow the abortion by deciding that a pregnant minor “is mature and capable of giving informed consent” and that bypassing parental consent would serve the minor’s “best interests.” Harris’ bill lists measures of maturity such as working outside the home, exploring all options, and “the pregnant woman’s conduct since learning of her pregnancy and her intellectual ability to understand her options and to make an informed decision.” The petition also requires counseling with an extensive report submitted to the court and bans the judge from considering “the potential financial impact on the pregnant woman or her family if the pregnant woman does not have an abortion.” And more.

harris-christmas-pixelate[The Harrises with the three biological children that they kept.]

A 2013 Reuters investigative series titled “The Child Exchange” found stories of children shifted from one home to another, of pedophiles looking for children online, of prospective parents with red flags in their background who were never vetted by any authority. Most states allow a child’s guardian to delegate temporary parental responsibility to another adult. Rehoming allows abusive or predatory parents to get custody of their children in almost all the states if both sets of parents sign a document.

After that report, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum to state social service agencies (including DHS) calling on “states to review their laws … to ensure that the issues that arise through the practice of rehoming are adequately addressed.” Wisconsin, Colorado, Florida and Louisiana have passed laws regarding rehoming. The first three criminalize advertising adoptable children, and Wisconsin requires families to get court approval before transferring custody to a non-relative.The Louisiana law requires court approval for transfer of custody to a non-relative for any length of time. The Arkansas DHS has added language on an adoption form allowing the agency to stop subsidy payments in cases of rehoming. A bill has been filed that would make it a felony to transfer an adoptive child to anyone but a relative.

Harris and the people who protect him prove that some conservative Christians think that people are disposable. This attitude is obvious in their rejection to helping people get food, shelter, and health care—unless they are part of their church and follow religious dictates. On today, the 107th annual International Women’s Day, Christian conservatives in Arkansas are protecting a man who gave away his children to a another man who molested one of them. This year’s theme is “Make It Happen.” People throughout the United States must make laws to stop this practice of “gifting” children to others.

Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, has called on President Obama to defend “the least of these”—those who ISIS is abusing and brutalizing. I call on President Floyd to do the same within his own Convention.

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