This past October, a man in South Carolina died in a car accident. His daughter was obviously still dealing with her emotions several weeks later when an unexpected package arrived from the state’s Department of Public Safety. It was a book written by Kenneth C. Haugk called A Time to Grieve. Far from just serving as a resource to help people cope with death, the book was actually a tool to promote Christianity.
The book is laden with Bible passages and other overtly religious messages such as:
• “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”
• “Even if your hold on God seems to slip at times — don’t worry. God has a firm
hold on you!”
• “There is nothing we do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to
make God love us less.”
• “What God does is not always immediately evident to human eyes.”
• “Stand still, and whisper God’s name, and listen. He is nearer than you think.”
An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to the subject, “If God Seems Far Away.” The chapter urges its readers to pray to God and not to lose faith.
Why did government officials think telling an atheist to trust in the Christian God was an appropriate way to help her deal with the loss? There would be a national outcry if the same department sent a book to a grieving Christian urging her to think about Satan in her time of need.
“The state’s using an individual’s grief to push a religious agenda is not only unconstitutional but also grossly insensitive,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “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.”
“In giving out an inherently religious book, the government is clearly violating the constitutional right to freedom from religious endorsement by the state,” said Monica Miller, senior counsel at the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “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.”
There will inevitably be Christians arguing that the state was just trying to do something nice — and the atheists are complaining over nothing. But this isn’t merely a violation of the law. This is the government telling a woman who just lost her father that she’s dealing with it the wrong way by not invoking Jesus. It’s appalling that anyone would have thought this was a smart idea.
The Department of Public Safety has a week to respond to the AHA before further action steps are considered.