South Carolina state troopers will no longer give copies of a book containing Bible verses to grieving families after an atheist complained, The Independent Mail is reporting.
It used to be that whenever someone died in a car wreck, a South Carolina state trooper would deliver a booklet, A Time to Grieve, to the victim’s family members. Besides the author’s words, the book also contained several passages from the Bible.
“Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long? Psalm 6:2-3.“
When not directly quoting scripture, the book often veers into the author’s thoughts on God.
“Even if your hold on God seems to slip at times — don’t worry. God has a firm hold on you.”
However, when an Anderson, South Carolina woman received the book after her father died in a car accident, she was appalled. The woman, who has asked not to be identified, is an atheist. She says that having state police hand out books with scripture, as well as impassioned prose about the love of God, is a clear violation of the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment, which holds that the government should not be involved in promoting religion.
The unidentified woman contacted the American Humanist Association, an atheists’ rights organization. They sent a letter to the South Carolina State Department of Public Safety, saying that the practice of handing out the book is unconstitutional, and asking them to stop.
David Niose, legal director of the Association, says that there’s no doubt handing out the book violates the so-called “Establishment Cause” of the First Amendment.
“This is a clear establishment-clause violation. This is not a close call at all.”
Usually, says Niose, the group represents atheists in more subtle, less obvious instances of the government promoting religion, such as putting put a Nativity Scene in a town square or posting the Ten Commandments in a public school. But for a state agency to hand out a book with scripture and proselytizing, he says, is unprecedented.
“But we have never seen a government office send out Christian literature,without even knowing anything about the religious background of the person it is being sent to. This is really just stunning and incredibly insensitive. A church-state violation like this is pretty jaw dropping.”
Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore, who has been at the scene of several accidents, said that in his experience, most grieving families appreciated being given the book.
“By far, more people here appreciate it. I believe in God, and I don’t mind offering up a prayer or anything I can for a family. Most seem to appreciate it. If someone doesn’t want something, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t just throw it in the trash instead of making a complaint.”
Sherri Iacobelli, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, said that the Anderson atheist woman is the only one to have ever complained about the book. However, in light of the American Humanist Association letter, they’ll stop handing out the book.
“We regret that any family member would have misunderstood our intentions or was offended by our effort to offer compassion during such a difficult time.”
As of this writing, it is not clear what, if anything, South Carolina state troopers will do for grieving families of those killed in car wrecks now that they can’t give out the book containing Bible verses anymore.
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