New guidelines from the state Department of Human Services approved last week by a legislative panel ban private preschools receiving public tax money from teaching religion during school hours.
Schools participating in the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program can’t use the money for religious instruction or worship occurring during the school day.
The decision affects three local preschools: Growing God’s Kingdom in West Fork, as well as two preschools in Mountain Home - Noah’s Ark Preschool and Open Arms Living Center.
Both are run by Republican state legislators. State Rep. Justin Harris and state Sen. Johnny Key, respectively, who were previously teaching religion in their preschools, with almost all of their funding coming from ABC money.
"They said prayer was out, but we could leave [religious posters] on the walls and so I thought it was a victory," said Harris.
The new guidelines also allow children to sing religious songs throughout the school day, according to Harris. But to do so, songs that aren't religious have to be sung as well.
"We'll sing one religious song, and then one secular song so that way it's all 50/50," said Harris.
But University of Arkansas law professor Stephen Sheppard said there needs to be a separation of church and state, as required in the United States Constitution.
"When the state funds schools, and tax money goes to support any form of education, then the state must ensure that the school does not support a particular church because that would violate the Establishment Clause," Sheppard said.
Harris said he plans to keep sharing the message of God with his students, even if that portion of the day has to take place before or after school hours.
Harris is running against Democratic opponent Wolf Grulkey in the November election.