COLUMBIA, S.C. — Troopers in South Carolina will no longer give a Christian book to residents grieving the loss of a loved one following receipt of a complaint on behalf of an atheist woman who was gifted a copy of the publication.
“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,” Sherri Iacobelli, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety, told reporters.
“Since this concern was brought to our attention, we have re-evaluated the ‘A Time to Grieve’ and will no longer send those particular pieces of literature to families following the death of a loved one in a motor-vehicle collision.”
The American Humanist Association (AHA) had sent a letter to the department earlier this month after being contacted by an atheist woman who had received a copy of the book following the death of her father, who died in a car accident.
The book, published by Stephen Ministries, urges readers to look to God in their pain and provides them comfort from the Scriptures.
“Stand still, and whisper God’s name, and listen. He is nearer than you think,” a portion reads.
AHA contends that it is unconstitutional for a government department to distribute material written from a Christian viewpoint.
“The book has the obvious effect of endorsing theistic religion, and Christianity in particular, and disapproving of atheism, thus violating the Establishment Clause,” its letter read. “To avoid legal action, we ask that you notify us in writing of the steps you will take to rectify this constitutional infringement.”
But Iacobelli said that the books were simply a way to show love to hurting families, some of which had asked for resources to help in their grief.
“Our troopers and officers see firsthand every day the terrible human toll of losing a loved one, and we have compassion for these families,” she told the Grand Haven Tribune. “Through the years, family members have reached out to the department in search of resources following a motor vehicle collision.”
Therefore, in addition to investigating fatal traffic accidents, the department wanted to provide support, and began sending families a sympathy card, a booklet that provides guidance on matters to be tended to following a loss, and the “Time to Grieve” book.
“The books were chosen because they have helpful information about coping with a loss and what to expect from the grieving process especially during that difficult first year,” Iacobelli explained.
Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore advised the Tribune that no complaints had been received up to this point, and to the contrary, most expressed gratitude.
“By far, more people here appreciate it,” he said. “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.”
However, in light of AHA’s letter, the books will no longer be utilized.
“The First Amendment protects the right of individuals to practice their own religion or practice no religion, and that right should be respected when they are grieving,” AHA’s Roy Speckhardt said in a statement. “We applaud the state’s agreeing to stop using a tragic situation to insensitively push a religious agenda.”