Oh, Indiana…..

At the end of each semester, those of us who teach university courses are inundated with research papers; it’s a time I refer to as “grading hell,” because my 30+ graduate students each submit a 20 page paper, analyzing a chosen policy issue.

The grading can be tedious, and at times I’m unpleasantly surprised by a student’s inability to write clearly (or even grammatically) or by conclusions that suggest the student didn’t understand anything we discussed in class. On the other hand, I end up learning a lot from the many excellent students who have chosen to examine policies with which I am unfamiliar.

And then there’s another category: papers that address problems or issues with which I have been engaged, but only superficially, and that provide me with greater detail and background than I previously possessed. This semester, I received a couple of those; especially a paper about Indiana’s regulation of day care facilities from one of my better students.

The paper focused on the reasons that child care “ministries” are treated differently from other day care operations under Indiana law.

The analysis confirmed everything I had previously heard about the influence of Eric Miller and his organization, “Advance America” on the Indiana legislature. Advance America bills itself as Indiana’s largest “pro-family and pro-church organization.” (In Indiana, “pro-family” is code for “anti-LGBTQ, anti-reproductive choice and pro-voucher support for fundamentalist Christian religious schools.)

In 1993, when legislation was moving through the Indiana General Assembly that would have subjected child care ministries to some regulation, including hand washing procedures, Miller rallied his organization to flood legislators with phone calls. Miller explained his opposition to the legislation, as presented in the Indiana House Family and Children Committee, by noting, “this is a public policy debate. Who’s responsible for caring for the children of the state of Indiana? The parents or the state?”

As the paper pointed out,  Indiana’s child care ministries are exempted from most of the rules that apply to other child care providers in the state–there are virtually no regulations they must observe or standards they must meet. Only 11 other states exempt religious-based organizations from some or all child care regulations, mostly southern states like Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina and Florida.

In her paper, my student argued that this lack of regulation, far from being required by the Free Exercise Clause, constitutes a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And she pointed out (and documented) that, in Indiana, this regulatory system that discriminates in favor of religious providers of child care fails to adequately protect children, serve families or prepare children for k-12 education.

While objections to regulation of these “ministries” are couched in religious freedom terms, it’s likely the real reasons are less spiritual: less regulation means lower costs. The ministries can hire fewer workers, need not offer staff training, and needn’t upgrade facilities that government inspectors would find deficient.

(Such ministries also are free of the regulations prohibiting physical punishment. If God wants “youth ministers” to beat the devil out of that three-year-old,, they can follow God’s dictates….)

In 2012, a 22-month old drowned in a baptismal font while in the care of a registered child care ministry in Indianapolis, and there were once again efforts to impose minimal regulations on these facilities.

During the 2013 legislative session, state Rep. Rebecca Kubacki authored legislation that would require day cares (including child care ministries) that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers to run background checks on employees and volunteers… Miller activated his Advance America network by telling them the legislation was “an attack on religious freedom.”  He pressured lawmakers via email, phone calls flooding statehouse offices and direct conversations from legislators’ own ministers. Kubacki didn’t back down, saying, “I’m here to protect these kids, and if I don’t get re-elected, I don’t care.”  In 2014, she lost in the May primary.

Thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana’s legislature has a Republican super-majority. Most members of that super-majority–again thanks to gerrymandering– represent rural areas of the state where Eric Miller and the fundamentalist churches that fund his organization hold considerable political sway– and Miller has a history of threatening and bullying legislators who are insufficiently subservient to his version of “religious freedom.”

“Suffer the little children” assumes a whole new meaning….


  1. Eric Miller has made a career out of leaving a religious slim trail, all around the state house for decades. A Pence cornerstone member that have weaponized religion in Indians and America, using it as a blunt instrument to destroy anyone who ask questions and suggests they be rained in.

  2. Very interesting Sheila!

    In some ways, I kind of wish I would’ve taken some of your college courses, I’m sure there would’ve been some interesting debates. I remember writing about the First Amendment rights concerning religion, and that everyone has the right to believe in their beliefs so to speak, but, not act on some of those beliefs. After 70 CE, and the Roman sacking of Jerusalem, the tearing down of the temple, Jews quit the blood sacrifice! Although some families continued the practice, this eventually went away. And this day and age, I don’t believe, in the United States, and other ” Western” countries, would allow blood sacrifice at an altar anyway. Because, given the 6° of separation rule, there would be those resurrecting some of the ancient religions, Baal is one, where children would be “passed through the fire” or the worship of Ishtar which was the goddess of prostitutes and the protectorate of houses of ill repute. Ishtar caused great angst among Jewish worshipers because the co-worship of Ishtar in the house of Yahweh, allowed prostitution at the temple. And the 6° of separation, imagine that being allowed as a religious practice in the United States or in conjunction with “Western culture” bad bad bad!

    The founders recognized the folly of allowing unfettered religious practices, not beliefs, but practices, so they put restraint upon them. This has been chiseled away by, as you point out, and by the research of some of your brighter students, to the detriment of separation of church and state and certain religious privilege over other beliefs and religions.

    So, when these controls have been whittled away, when these restrictions and walls have been torn down, what is to prevent the resumption of blood sacrifice? The resumption of human sacrifice? The resumption of wholesale public orgies and worship of unfettered sexual practice? Or in the case of Baal, public child sacrifice?

    I mean, if we are loosening or completely abandoning the separation of church and state, which church/religion is acceptable? How can you claim acceptance for one, and not allow all?

    Jeopardizing Tax-Exempt Status
    All IRC Section 501(c)(3) organizations, including churches and religious
    organizations, must abide by certain rules:
    1 their net earnings may not inure to any private shareholder or individual;
    2 they must not provide a substantial benefit to private interests;
    3 they must not devote a substantial part of their activities to attempting to
    influence legislation;
    4 they must not participate in, or intervene in, any political campaign on behalf of
    (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office; and
    5 the organization’s purposes and activities may not be illegal or violate
    fundamental public policy.


    So it seems, this Miller fellow, is in direct violation of tax exempt protocol!
    So either, it’s reined in, or, all religious practices have the right to take place! I don’t know, maybe that’s just too simplistic, LOL! But it would seem to me, with the elimination of this church and state separation, how can one develop governmental religious belief against its own constitution? And then not allow all religious beliefs or restrict them from being practiced?

    Grosjean v. American Press Co.


  3. “…child care “ministries” are treated differently from other day care operations under Indiana law.”

    The term “ministries” is the giveaway that your child’s care will be based on a religious foundation; if that is your choice, you are free to place your child in that facility. But, like “school vouchers”, which is a form of older child care private education facilities, are parents given full information regarding the care or teaching their child will receive. It should not take “taxpayer funded vouchers” to require background checks on all who provide care and learning for our children of all ages. And “religious freedom” also provides freedom “from” religion being forced on us as well as freedom “to practice” our chosen religion or not to adhere to any religious organization.

    The full meaning of freedom in that part of Amendment I of the Constitution has gotten lost and laws are being passed forcing religious beliefs on us regarding “families”, “child care” and learning institutions as well as business practices and health care coverage. The same can be said about “freedom of speech, or of the press” or “the right of the people PEACEABLY to assemble” (carrying military level weapons) “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” But do we use Amendment I to protest at those “child care ministries” to call attention to problems and demand change? Protesting the gerrymandered Republicans in office on any issue is not working and our children are also not safe from harm on our streets or in our schools.

    And the President just walks off in a huff when he doesn’t like the questions put to him in his own press conference regarding our current life-and-death situation. “Suffer the little children” assumes a whole new meaning….” Our children cannot walk away.

  4. Eric Miller must have a telephone on his desk that is a hot-line to God. How else would he know exactly what God wants? Certainly not from reading the New Testament. He would have been comfortable during the Inquisition, putting people on the rack, and then burning them at the stake.

  5. I spent 17 years advocating for high quality early childhood education in Indiana and better regulation of child care providers. There were several levels of regulation and at least a dozen ways to be license-exempt. But, by far, the “ministries” were the most outrageous exemption. The state not only allowed churches to provide low- quality, unsafe child care by unqualified staff, or volunteers – often girls 15 or 16 years old – but the state paid churches to do it. When that two-year-old you mentioned wandered away, unnoticed and unsupervised, and drowned in a baptismal pool, I thought that would be the last straw. But, once again, Eric Miller swooped in and scared the daylights out of legislators. One legislator agreed to sponsor legislation, only to back down when her own pastor threatened her. And, yes, it was all about the money. Churches got paid close to te same amount as our nationally-accredited, highly-regulated child Care Center, but had none of the costs required to make facilities safe, train and certify staff who’d been drug screened and checked for criminal histories, provided with required annual training, or even paid. They didn’t have to utilize any curriculum. The most heartbreaking part, was that parents didn’t know the risks they were taking in ministries. The stories of children being injured that were brought to legislative committees, would have stripped other centers of their licenses. I’ll never forget Eric Miller’s constant mantra in opposing even the slightest safety requirements. When, “unconstitutional government overreach” was uttered, everything stopped, committee chairs refused to take votes, legislators ran for the nearest exit.

    I do give credit to Melanie Brizzi who as a Director at FSSA tried every administrative maneuver to circumvent legislators’ paralysis with quality rating tied to funding and using carrots instead of sticks to improve child care in ministries. But, it remains one of Indiana’s most shameful pandering to greed disguised as religion.

  6. To trust your children to a church you would have to be PROFOUNDLY stupid. Indiana does, and is.

  7. My lifetime of observation of the State of Indiana leaves me with only one conclusion, and that is that the majority of conservative Hoosiers put their priorities in this order: white male dominance first, money second, and fundamentalist religion third. Anything that might upset this apple cart is bulldozed under. The key to maintaining this order is keeping the voting public as ignorant and full of suspicion and fear as possible. The Republican Party, the religious right and the media have aided this at every turn. Shame on them all.

  8. Over It,

    Your comment “To trust your children to a church you would have to be PROFOUNDLY stupid. Indiana does, and is.” has broader reach than just Indiana and just child care. It is one of the many things that churches do to control minds (First Amendment used as a religious cudgel) and pocket books. It’s yet another reason why the founders were so adamant about separating churches from government.

  9. Okay, let’s get to the gist of the situation! The government should not be giving money to church organizations period!

    It started in Earnest with Bush 2 and has now turned into a bonfire by tapping into public monies! organizations that accept public money cannot put restrictions on doling out that money or services based on beliefs! But they do, and that violates the law! Not only state laws, but federal laws and the Constitution!

    Maybe I was being too nuanced in my explanation of how I see things, because that’s My Perspective, but if you read the links that I’ve posted on my earlier comment, you can see that what’s happening violates the law and the Constitution! So, why aren’t there huge rallies concerning this issue? If this is happening in Indiana, shouldn’t everyone who is against this be rallying, rallying so it can be put on every news Network that might cover it? If it was reversed, the GOP would be pounding it relentlessly!

    This is an ideological war which is rapidly turning into something much more nefarious! And, I would venture to say, if the war is not lost already, it soon will be!

    when you have right-wing Evangelical nationalist white supremacist marching through North Carolina with rocket launchers slung over their shoulder, and nickel plated 44 Magnums hanging from their hips, and m-16s or AK-47s or AR-15s, or, I’ve even seen some German Mausers and world war 1 M1 rifles

    They are letting you know, that they will defend their inroads with blood! So, who’s up for civil war?

    This should not be allowed by these states, someone’s going to fire off an m500 firecracker during one of these stretch your leg strolls armed to the teeth, there’s going to be a slaughter. And it will not stop there.

  10. It’s been a few years since I moved from Indiana. Do you think I might be able to guess Mr. Miller’s political affiliation?

  11. Indiana Wesleyan has a few exemptions as well. They receive state monies and are allowed to discriminate against employees — they require you to take a Christian oath. I believe Pence was behind the exemption.

    As John pointed out, the way to get at these ministries is through the Internal Revenue Code and their “tax-exempt status.”

    The child care centers within a church should be taxable income, and they should also have to pay local property taxes. If they are contributing to a lobbying group, they should lose their tax-exempt status entirely. Still, I’m sure they’ve figured out how to get money to lobbyists without involving the church organization. For instance, the members send money to Miller and his lobbying group directly instead of having the church stroke a check.

    If there is no difference between a daycare center at a church or a stand-alone facility, then there is no difference. Both should be taxed accordingly for income and property tax purposes. Go inside a YMCA and see if it differs from a Planet Fitness. If they are the same, they should both pay property and income taxes.

    The last I checked, if a church has a fire, the fire department shows up to put out the blaze.

    The problem is politicians are cowards to do the right thing for the people, whether it be in Indianapolis or Washington. The only time they address the voters is during elections. After that is completed, they get to work for the donors and influence peddlers.

  12. I am amazed at the breadth of topics presented here and the good discussions. Thank You All.

    I have to look at this from a dollar perspective. If it costs $175 a week at a licensed facility, and maybe a $125 a week at church facility, and maybe I even go to that church, it would seem like an easy choice. Maybe I know that people at the church and they are good well meaning people. With nothing other than word of mouth, or Google reviews, how much more could I get for that extra $50 a week? As a working parent with a toddler to take care of, and with child care being maybe the largest monthly house hold expense, how much time am I going to spend on this decision, when I don’t have enough information.

    It is unfortunate from a pure dollar point of view that I think this situation preys on lower income people. It preys on people with less education. It preys on people with strong religious faith.

    As we have found out in the midst of a pandemic, health and safety do trump even religious freedoms. I also believe that the right to education should trump religious freedoms.

    On a different topic, how does one go about challenging the tax exempt status of Advance America? Even our neighborhood association has two incorporated entities; one 501c tax exempt foundation to maintain parks infrastructure, and a more politically active incorporated Association and both boards are very careful not to do anything that would jeopardize the standing of either organization.

  13. Love the word -Christofascism will need to add that to my list. I am a Christian, but I did not use a Christian organization for adoption and I already knew about the low standards and no oversight at these ‘Chrisitian’ ran daycares in Indiana as a public health nurse for Marion County. I was aware of the deaths and abuse and substandard environments and the sketchy workers.

    My dad was sent to a Catholic school and the nuns used to tie his left hand to his chair until my grandmother found out and about took a switch to the nun. That was the last time his left hand was tied to a chair.

    I don’t know but whenever I see Christian advertised or promoted for a business the hairs on the back of my neck raise. Everytime I see a MAGA sign on these small church road signs I immediately think churches need to lose their nonprofit status.

    I have thought about classifying my home as a church–hmmm–wonder what it would take. :)Talk about religious freedom.

  14. It appears the Holy Roman Empire has made a reappearance in Indiana via a Pope-approved Charlemagne named Miller though, unlike Charles the Great, I presume Miller is both literate and Protestant (though both Catholics and Protestants like raiding the public till).

    Authoritarianism whether secular or divine often parades itself under the guise of “freedom” while compliant courts twist legal logic of such “freedom” to conform to constitutional language. Jefferson and Madison would not be happy with such Hoosier authoritarianism and/or its public funding, nor am I. As an ex-Hoosier, my unasked for advice is to not only remove the super majority but its undergirding gerrymandering as well. How? Super turnout. Can’t be done? Wrong. Obama carried this state once upon a time. How? Super organization.

  15. Religious freedom/ privilege is not equally applied across Christian denominations let alone all faiths. My pastor was quite upset by the fact that mainstream Christian faith leaders (Catholic archbishop of Indianapolis, United Methodist bishop, and regional ministers from other denominations) were not consulted in Holcomb’s decision to allow churches to have services. I am guessing that Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and other faith leaders are even less likely to be consulted. People of faith have been reduced to experimental units. See https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/ct-ptb-covid-churches-open-st-0508-20200507-we7n6h3zevhm3kf4cms67d6wk4-story.html

  16. Let’s not forget that it was not that long ago the Democrats had a majority in the Indiana House. How did they get that majority? Gerrymandering. Big time. Democrats complain non-stop about gerrymandering, until they get a majority and can do their own gerrymander.

    Let’s not forget too that there are limits on gerrymandering. Republican David Brooks drew the local city-county council districts. The Democrats now hold 20 of the 25 districts. Of course that should not be surprising since in 2019 the Democrats won every precinct in Pike and Washington township and all but a tiny handful in the other northern townships.

  17. The Right Wing Reactionary Evangelicals twist and turn constantly to justify government handouts and welfare to financially support their message of Supernatural Bronze Age Mythology. The GOP wants small government when it helps the commons, they are totally comfortable with scarfing up tax dollars to dole out to some religious establishment.

    The case of the day care is especially egregious since the same level of standards do not apply to all day cares. It would be like letting one car manufacturer get away with not installing seat belts, or a religious restaurant not obeying the rules and regulations concerning hygiene.

    The media has certainly been frightened away from a comprehensive and factual look at the whole notion of using tax dollars to subsidize religious schools and day care.

  18. Dan Mullendore; your quote of child care costs anywhere is exactly why those living in poverty cannot leave their children to look for a job which will not cover child care costs and leave enough to put food on their table and pay rent. IF – IF – we can return to anything resembling near normal working conditions in this country; the issue of child care in workplaces needs to be reopened and possibly be part of employee’s income benefits or at a nominal cost. Lack of child care keeps many single-mothers from even trying for employment; and there is the lack of pubic transportation issue in most cities. The same problems exist for two-parent families living at poverty or low-income levels. This country is not the “milk and honey”, “streets of gold” as portrayed to be which brought those many thousands of immigrants here. Stay-at-home mothers are a thing of the past and this Covid-19 Pandemic has forced this issue on families totally unprepared to deal with lack of jobs and closed schools and being unqualified to maintain proper education levels. Not everyone in this country has computers to avail on-line schooling and many parents are uneducated or poorly educated themselves so our children are the losers again.

  19. It alway boils down to money and power and it seems that considering my time on earth both of those resources have seriously dwindled for formal religion (in many cases earned by the few abusing them). I can see how threatening that fact must be both for leaders who personally benefit from having the money and power and believers who must treat the decline as evidence that what typically defines themselves now makes them even somewhat exceptional in society.

    The world is going to hell.

    Of course just like there are no issues between sincere believers and real science there are none between sincere believers and liberals relative to economics and politics, money and power.

    We all make assumptions everyday about important things for which there is no clear evidence pointing any way of reliably knowing reality. Liberals believe that we must all be free to believe in the assumptions that make most sense to us right up to where our assumptions motivate actions that conflict with someone else’s freedom to do the same.

    That makes sense but doesn’t address the reality that religious leaders in many cases are being deprived of money and power they regard as entitlements.

    Unfortunately at this time in history the entitlement claims office is suffering from overload just like the unemployment office – long lines and impatient staff and frightened and angry claimants.

    Being victims of an unsustainable human population in the midst of being restored to something with both a past and a future sucks for so many.

  20. I am acquainted with someone involved in these “ministries”. The points you raised are wonderful, but there are other far more fundamental regulations these “ministries” don’t want to follow, which includes fire regulations. The person with whom I am acquainted believed strongly that to require facilities to meet the minimum fire safety standards applicable to any other sort of school setting was violating the freedom to practice religion of the members. Do they really think that things like complying with the electrical code, having fire extinguishers, multiple means of exit and fire drills are a threat to their exercise of religion? Do they want to see little kids get killed in a fire? When I was a child, I recall teachers discussing a school fire in Chicago. Children panicked and had to be log-rolled down the stairs because they were frozen with fear and didn’t know what to do. That’s why we had fire drills–so we would know exactly what to do if we heard the alarm.

    It’s just like Trump’s followers who are in favor of rolling back consumer and environmental protections, which exist to prevent another 2008 economy meltdown and to keep our air and water safe. Trump calls them “job killers”, but the real killers are the polluters and those who are allowed to cheat consumers.

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