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Arkansas state Rep. Justin Harris seems like a pretty godly kind of guy. Last week, the Republican from West Fork, Arkansas, was very sad when the House Education Committee voted down a bill he'd introduced to ban schools from punishing children for religious expression, like to protect kids from atheist teachers who put them in detention for saying "bless you" after a sneeze. Coincidentally, Harris and his wife, Marsha, happen to run a preschool called the "Growing God's Kingdom Preschool," where they teach kids how to be good and godly.


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So it was a huge shock, in April 2014, when a former teacher at the Growing God's Kingdom Preschool, Eric Cameron Francis, was arrested for raping a 6-year-old girl who had been in his care. Rep. Harris said he was "devastated and sickened" by what Francis had done, but there was a tiny detail that he didn't mention last year. As revealed by in an astonishing investigative report this week by the Arkansas Times, the girl Francis raped was Harris's adopted daughter, whom the Harrises had handed off to Francis when they got sick of her. That was in September 2013, before they'd even hired him as a teacher.

The Harrises had adopted the girl and her 3-year-old sister through the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS). The couple also has three biological sons who are older than the girls. Pictures of the girls appeared on Justin Harris' social media accounts in early 2013 (the images have since been deleted), and Harris announced on Twitter and Facebook on March 6, 2013, that the couple had officially adopted the girls. Because DHS adoptions require an in-home trial period of at least six months prior to papers being signed, the girls likely entered the home no later than September 2012.

But apparently Harris and his wife didn't take to the little girls they'd adopted from foster care, because somewhere around September 2013, they "rehomed" the girls with Francis and his wife, Stacey. And no, the Harrises are not facing charges for that because it's totally legal.

If some readers are startled to learn that it's legal for adoptive parents to give their children to another family, they're in good company. As the State Police investigation unfolded last spring, one person kept apprised of its progress was then-Gov. Mike Beebe. Matt DeCample, Beebe's former spokesperson, said the governor was surprised as anyone to hear about the practice of "rehoming," as it's called in the adoption world [...]

"The governor asked some of our legal folks to look at how that was legally possible in the state — or at least why there wasn't anything preventing it from happening. And everything we got back said there was not anything definitive in Arkansas Code prohibiting such an activity."

The Harrises aren't saying why they would give up their daughters to a relative stranger just a year after taking them in. The six-year-old told the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) interviewer that she had been placed in foster care after being sexually abused by someone in her biological family. The Department of Human Services gives special training to parents adopting children who've come from a traumatic background, but apparently that wasn't quite enough to prepare the Harrises for caring for a little girl who'd already been through hell, and who no doubt had behavioral issues stemming from her abuse. So they handed her off to someone else to abuse. We guess God's Kingdom grows in some weird ways.

Just to add one more layer of strangeness to the timeline reconstructed by the Arkansas Times, a month or two before Eric Francis was arrested, he and Stacey gave the sisters to a third family, who, thank Crom, appear not to be monsters -- they're planning to adopt the girls and actually keep them. And, one hopes, they're prepared to pay for years of therapy.

Investigators became aware of the sexual abuse of the six-year-old when an unidentified caller contacted the Arkansas child mistreatment hotline in late March 2014, and said that

the Harrises "gave their adoptive children to a family" and "that family in turn gave the children to another family" and that [the Harrises] had "continued to accept adoption subsidy money even after giving the children away."

And in what turned out to be a case of a government agency doing exactly what it should, the state police's Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) quickly investigated. The call came in on Friday, March 28, and the girls were located that afternoon, at the home of the third family. The girls were interviewed the following Monday, which is when "the 6-year-old disclosed the abuse by Francis, which Francis later told police occurred sometime in January 2014, while his wife was out of state." Francis was sentenced in November to 40 years in prison in a plea agreement.

When the Arkansas Times tried to interview Rep. Harris for their story, he went all Party of Personal Responsibility on reporter Benjamin Hardy:

In February, the Arkansas Times asked Rep. Harris to comment on the case and explain what became of the girls he and his wife had adopted. He refused, and stated that the Times was attempting to "smear" him. "It's evil," he said, becoming visibly upset.

When asked whether he rehomed his adoptive children with another family, he replied, "I'm not confirming that." When asked about the statements made in the State Police report in the Francis case, Harris said he hadn't read the file because of the disturbing descriptions of sexual abuse that they contain.

Harris then quoted Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you."

"You don't know what we've been through this past year. You have no idea what my family has been through," he said emphatically. "I don't care what the people of Arkansas think about me. I don't care if I lose my position. I care what my wife thinks about me, and I care what my three sons think about me."

Overcome with emotion, he then turned and walked away. Harris has not responded to repeated requests for further comment, even again this week when advised this story would be published.

He seems nice.

The Bible verse was an especially good touch. It really helps make the case that Harris is just an unfortunate victim of the liberal media, which is trying to make him look bad just because he handed a troubled little girl to someone he figured was trustworthy enough to raise her -- though maybe not trustworthy enough to keep in his employ -- and who then turned out to be not so trustworthy. This has been really hard on Harris, the poor guy. He's just trying to do God's work and to run a decent Christian preschool and to protect the religious freedoms of Arkansas schoolchildren. Is it really fair to get all over him just because he happened to do an exceptionally shitty job of protecting one child?

For more on the illustrious career of Justin Harris, see our follow-up story. And our other follow-up story. And our follow-up to that follow-up!

[Arkansas Times via twitter tip from Theodocious Calhoun]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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