South Carolina troopers to stop distributing 'grief book' after atheists complain about Christian content

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety has decided to stop giving a "grief book" to family members of car crash victims after an atheist group filed a complaint about the book's Christian content.

REUTERS/Nathan Gray
An Anderson County sheriff's deputy stands outside of Townville Elementary School after a shooting in Townville, South Carolina, U.S., September 28, 2016.

In a letter to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, the American Humanist Association (AHA) said an atheist woman in Anderson received the book titled "A Time to Grieve" after her father died in a car wreck in October and asked for the group's help in filing a complaint. According to the association, the book violates the First Amendment because it promotes the Christian faith, The State details.

"A Time to Grieve" includes passages from the Bible including a verse from Psalms which says, "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?"

AHA's letter also mentions a chapter which assures the reader that God is there even if a person's hold on Him sometimes slips.

"This is a clear establishment-clause violation," said AHA legal director David Niose. "This is not a close call at all."

AHA executive director Roy Speckhardt also condemned the book as a form of proselytizing. In a statement, he said using a person's grief for one's religious agenda is "grossly insensitive." He urged people to respect atheists' convictions especially during the process of grieving over the loss of a loved one, Opposing Views reports.

In response to the complaint, the department's spokesperson Sherri Iacobelli said the state agency is now reconsidering the distribution of the grief book. However, she noted that AHA's letter is the only complaint that the agency has received about it.

Iacobelli acknowledged the inclusion of Biblical passages in the book, but she said its main content "offers compassionate guidance for navigating the grieving process." The agency reportedly thought it would be important for families left behind by the car crash victims because it outlines the things they should expect during the first year of grieving.