Columbia, SC (WLTX) - "Unconstitutional" and "state sponsored religion", those are some of the words that a non-religious group are using to describe an act by the state Department of Public Safety after hearing about it's practice of sending out booklets containing scripture to grieving families.
Their criticism has led to change in the department's policy.
According to the Department of Public Safety our state loses 850 people on average to motor accidents each year and for the last six months the agency was giving out a four-part series of booklets called "Journeying Through Grief".
The booklets are Christian-based, containing scripture and focusing on healing after tragedy.
One of the booklets has some folks upset.
The Washington D.C. based group, The American Humanist Association whose website states it advocates for progressive values and equality for humanists, atheists and agnostics sent News 19 an email sharing with us a story about a woman in Anderson County who lost her father in a car accident.
The group said the woman identifies as an atheist and was upset after receiving the booklet "A Time to Grieve" from the agency.
They said that the state was specifically promoting Christian values by sending this type of religious literature and therefore violating the constitution.
The letter said, "The citizen was dismayed by the message of blatant religious proselytization from the state," and "the state's using an individual's grief to push a religious agenda is not only unconstitutional but also grossly insensitive."
And attorney Jay Bender agrees.
“I can’t imagine who in the department thought this was a good idea. The first amendment has five great freedoms and one is the freedom to practice religion as you want and to be from an official religion. These booklets, sponsored by the state purchased by public money to me are clearly offensive to the separation of church and state spelled out in the first amendment,” Bender said.
News 19 reached out to the Department of Public Safety to find out whether they sent the books out, and if so to ask, "Why?"
In a statement they said "Our troopers and officers see firsthand every day the terrible human toll of losing a loved one, and we have compassion for these families. through the years, family members have reached out to the department in search of resources following a motor vehicle collision...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."
The booklets were funded by the regular budget and fees collected from the sale of collision reports, but after receiving the letter the agency said it will no longer send out the entire "Journeying Through Grief" series.
On Friday representatives from the Humanist Association told News 19 they are satisfied with the Department of Public Safety's response and will not be pursuing further legal action.
In a statement they said, "The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center received assurances from the South Carolina Department of Public Safety that it will no longer send out the Christian series “A Time to Grieve” to families who have lost members to traffic accidents."
The department said it will continue to give out a separate checklist on things to do after losing a loved one in a road accident.
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