Back in March, I wrote two posts about Arkansas State Representative Justin Harris who gave up his six-year old adopted daughter to a man who subsequently raped her. (You can read those posts here and here.)
An excerpt from my March 6th post:
Justin Harris, a Republican state representative, is said to be “facing serious scrutiny after he apparently ‘rehomed’ his adopted daughters to a household where one of the girls, age 6, was sexually abused by the father.” The father–a 38-year-old resident of Bella Vista named Eric Cameron Francis–was arrested by State Police on April 4, 2014, for the rape of the 6-year-old girl who was in his temporary care. The rape occurred in January of 2014, when Francis’s wife was out of state. Francis, who confessed to the sexual assault, is currently serving a 40-year sentence.
A babysitter of the Harrises had also claimed that Hustin and his wife Marsha believed that their adopted daughters were possessed by demons and had an exorcism performed. Harris and his wife denied the accusation.
They eventually “rehomed” the girls, ages 5 and 3, in October 2013 to a friend and preschool employee of theirs – Eric Francis – who is now serving a 40-year prison term for abusing one of the Harris’ adopted daughters and two other children.
The couple left their adopted daughters with Francis even after firing him over poor work attendance in January 2014 — when court documents show he admitted to raping the girl while his wife was out of state.
It now appears that the “serious scrutiny” that Harris underwent did not result in any negative consequences for him. Benjamin Hardy of The Arkansas Times reported on Thursday that nearly three months after the news broke about the “rehoming” of his two adopted daughters, Harris “continues to serve as state representative from District 81 — a job that this year saw a boost in salary, from $15,869 to $39,400.” Hardy noted that Harris and his wife Marsha “also continue to run Growing God’s Kingdom, which gets 90 percent of its funding through state and federal revenue streams.”
Despite widespread public outrage, no elected official from his own party has yet called for Rep. Harris’ resignation or offered a statement censuring his actions. Republican leaders such as Gov. Asa Hutchinson and House Speaker Jeremy Gillam (R-Judsonia) have said the focus instead should be on preventing future tragedies.
We should just let bygones be bygones when it comes to ultra-religious politicians like Harris, right?
Hardy reported that although Representative Harris wasn’t personally censured—his actions were.
The General Assembly swiftly and unanimously passed bipartisan legislation this session intended to prevent further instances of rehoming. One bill, sponsored by Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville), prohibits adoptive parents from continuing to collect state subsidies if they rehome a child and tightens the requirement that DHS provide post-adoptive services to families struggling with difficult adoptions. The second, sponsored by Rep. David Meeks (R-Greenbrier), makes rehoming a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. When the governor signed the bills into law in April, Arkansas went from having no statutory prohibition against giving away adopted children to having one of the toughest such laws in the country. (The felony statute does not apply to biological children, recognizing the unhappy fact that adoptive children are especially vulnerable to abandonment.)
Yet it is difficult to ignore the fact that one of the votes cast in favor of both bills belongs to the man whose actions convinced the public and the General Assembly of the need to change the law in the first place. Those actions would have remained concealed — and the law presumably unchanged — had this newspaper not made them public in March. The new law is not retroactive, so Justin and Marsha Harris are in no danger of being charged with the crime of rehoming, but there is an undeniable irony to a legislator voting for a bill that would make something he did 18 months ago a felony.
In addition, DHS has evidently not investigated the claims made by current and former employees of Growing God’s Kingdom of alleged violations at the Harrises’ school.
Travis Gettys of Raw Story:
Current and former employees at Growing God’s Kingdom said they remain concerned about possible tax violations, child mistreatment, improper use of foster children in campaign ads, and the lawmaker’s influence over DHS.
The agency is responsible for administering federal funds for preschool breakfast and lunch programs, which some employees said the Harrises abused by falsifying sign-in forms for absent children.
Gettys said that the DHS hasn’t investigated the alleged violations—and added that the Harrises had asked employees sign affidavits disavowing the claims.
Gettys noted that DHS had “changed a regulatory rule in response to a 2011 complaint filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State over religious activity at the preschool – including Marsha Harris praying over a 2-year-old who engaged in typical toddler behavior such as biting and tantrums.” Gettys said that the agency changed its rules “to allow private preschools to provide religious instruction outside the seven-hour program required by state regulations.” According to Gettys, an employee said that “she and her co-workers were reluctant to report the Harrises’ behavior, which she described as ‘out of control,’ because ‘Justin is so religious.’”
Benjamin Hardy said that even though Republican leaders appear “hesitant to criticize Harris, the workers at Growing God’s Kingdom who saw the events leading up to the rehoming firsthand have a different perspective.” Hardy reported that two of the current workers “decided to talk to the Times — despite the obvious risk to their jobs — out of a sense of partial responsibility that they didn’t speak up for Mary and Annie when the girls lived at the Harris home.” One of those workers was quoted as saying, “This was way out of control…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.”
Hardy said that another worker “echoed those sentiments” when she said, “When all this blew up, I felt so guilty. We’re supposed to be mandated reporters — but all these things happened, like, little bitty things at a time. You’re just thinking, ‘Well, it’s your boss, so … .’ It’s weird, being in that situation.” She added, “That’s why I decided to talk. … I was just feeling so guilty for not saying anything.”
The first worker also said she was disturbed by the allegations about DHS. “DHS needs to be completely cracked open … if you’re letting Justin have this much power, something is wrong,” she said. And she said she was tired of Harris portraying his troubles as the product of partisan politics or religious persecution. “You can’t hide behind being a Christian, being a Republican. … I’m both of those, and what do people think when you say, ‘Oh, I’m a Christian’ all the time?”
“It has to stop,” she said.
Yes, it HAS to stop! But will it?
Months after the rehoming of their adopted daughters was made public, Justin and Marsha Harris have yet to face consequences: Despite public outrage, Justin Harris’ status as legislator remains unchanged. (Arkansas Times)