South Carolina's Department of Public Safety (DPS) sent a Christian book to a grieving atheist in Anderson, South Carolina.
On Jan. 3, the American Humanist Association (AHA) said in a press release that the atheist's father was recently killed in a car accident, and the DPS subsequently sent the book, "A Time to Grieve," to the non-believer.
The Christian book includes numerous verses from the Bible and tells readers to pray.
The book was published by Stephen Ministries, which is based in St. Louis, according to the ministry website:
Stephen Ministries is a not-for-profit Christian education organization founded in 1975 that produces training and resources known for their excellence, practicality, psychological integrity, and theological depth. These resources cover topics such as caring ministry, assertive relating, spiritual gifts discovery, grief support, spiritual growth, and more.
Congregations and other organizations use these resources to strengthen and expand ministry. Individuals use them to improve their ability to relate to and care for others, grow in faith, and journey through life crises.
The AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center told DPS Director Leroy Smith in a letter that the book violated the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment.
Monica Miller, a senior lawyer at the legal center, explained the violation in the news release:
In giving out an inherently religious book, the government is clearly violating the constitutional right to freedom from religious endorsement by the state. Numerous courts have ruled against similar instances of state promotion of Christianity, and this instance is particularly egregious because the state sends the religious book to grieving families.
Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the AHA, also condemned the apparent proselytizing:
The state’s using an individual’s grief to push a religious agenda is not only unconstitutional but also grossly insensitive. Everyone deserves to be treated with compassion in processing the death of a loved one, and during such a difficult time, atheists should have their convictions respected in the same way that the beliefs of a grieving religious individual would be respected.
DPS spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli explained in a statement that the department has only recently begun sending the books out, reports the South Carolina Radio Network:
Through the years, family members have reached out to the department in search of resources following a motor vehicle collision. In addition to meeting our basic mission of investigating the collision, victims’ families receive a sympathy card from us; a booklet that provides guidance about planning and considerations after a sudden loss; and the "A Time to Grieve" booklets, which we recently began disseminating.
The AHA's letter called on the DPS to stop sending out the book. There has not been a response from the DPS on the letter.