Here is a recent column I wrote for the Washington County Observer. Although it's about an Arkansas event, it has national significance regarding religious freedom.
One of the first things law students learn is to think like a lawyer. That requires disassembling events and testing them agains evidence rules, witness veracity, legal precedents and the law's language. It helps remove emotions, prejudices, bias, and deceit from assessments of events.
Legal reasoning can decay into what I call "lawyerthink: " the parsing of language at the expense of comon sense. Even scripture describes the deadliness of focusing on the letter of the law rather than the spirit.
Lawyerthink has infected public views regarding religion, as evidenced by pressure on the Arkansas Department of Human Services to stop state funding to West Fork's Growing God's Kingdom Preschool because it "promotes" religion. Republican State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife, Marsha, operate the school. Full disclosure: I campaigned for Rep. Harris and am working for his reelection.
Lawyerthink attempts to squeeze every vestige of religion out of anything related to government. Lawyerthink, taken to its logical conclusions, would say that a church bus cannot drive on a state highway or that a city fire department should not respond to a call from a church. Those are imaginary offenses. But reality is just as bad as when a federal judge threatens arrest at a Texas graduation ceremony for those using words like "prayer" and "amen," a California couple is fined for a home Bible study, and God's name is banned from military funerals.
Attacks on faith are more than assaults of the Constitution's free exercise clause. They represent strikes on the culture itself, which is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian. Especially here -- there is a reason rural Arkansas is considered part of the Bible Belt. That's why government and political meetings begin with prayer (often in Jesus' name, I might add). That's why there are crosses marking highway deaths. That's why so many folks go to church, even if only at Christmas and Easter. It's also why we say "God bless you" when somebody sneezes (although there was a California teacher penalizing students for doing that).
Note that culture does not make one holy or less holy than anybody else. But culture represents how people behave in a certain area, region, or nation.
The attacks on the preschool are attacks on local culture. Note that it's a Washington group pressuring the state DHS to lean on the Harrises. Most Arkansans recognize that the Harrises are using state funds (our tax money) to help local children and families. And they do it in a religious environment. Until now, the DHS itself recognized that.
I'm reminded of a country music show in a Western state. Before beginning their chuck wagon dinner, one of the cowboys said: "Now, folks, there's something we do around here before we eat and that's give thanks to God. So if you don't pray, that's alright.
"It won't hurt you none."
So relax. The Harrises are not establishing the First Church of Arkansas. They're Christians using our money to serve families against the background of a Judeo-Christian culture.
It's perfectly legal And beneficial.
And it won't hurt you none.