April 18, 2014

Faith and football: Clemson says program is “compliant with Constitution”

Dabo sideline

Coach Dabo Swinney often speaks openly about his Christian faith.

Clemson University is disputing a freedom-from-religion group’s contention that football coach Dabo
Swinney is promoting a “Christian culture” on the team, and that violates the football players constitutional rights.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, the nation’s largest association of atheists and agnostics has told Clemson that it believes Coach Swinney is promoting a culture in the football program that violates constitutional separation of church and state.

“Christian worship seems interwoven into Clemson’s football program,” stated the group’s attorney in a complaint letter.

The group claims that organized bible studies, devotionals, and the distributing of Bibles, and a team chaplain are activities that employees at a public university should not be involved in.

Clemson University released this statement to South Carolina Radio Network Wednesday:

We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.

Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ­ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.

We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.

DSS director: “I respectfully decline to resign,” while Haley, Shealy fight on Facebook (AUDIO)

Koller in hearing

Koller sits for three hours of questions

The state’s top child welfare official says she will not step down. After a long-awaited appearance in front of a special Senate panel, Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller told media, “I respectfully decline to resign.”  That is despite two Democrats calling for her ouster as the panel probes the death of children in DSS care.

Otherwise, director Koller gave senators what they asked for: three hours of detailed testimony about how the agency handled two highly-publicized child death cases, her views on case overloads and defense of her leadership style.  Watch entire hearing here.

Immediately afterward, her boss, Gov. Nikki Haley applauded Koller. In a statement from her spokesman, Doug Mayer:

“Director Koller showed today exactly why the governor appointed her in the first place – she is a committed advocate for South Carolina’s children, and someone who has overseen dramatic improvement in an agency that deals with some of the toughest, most tragic situations in our state. Governor Haley is proud of Director Koller, the staff at DSS, and the changes they have made, changes that have resulted in a decrease in child fatalities, an increase in adoptions, and the ability to provide more services to children and families statewide than ever before.”

The real dust-up happened, however, on Facebook, where the rift between Gov. Haley and panel member (and her Senate ally) Katrina Shealy became public. Read The State’s recap. This tension had been simmering since Shealy began questioning the governor’s appointee months ago.

“Sometimes others in that process could have done more”

Lourie in committee

Lourie disagreed with some of Koller’s statistics

The panel made up of senators  Tom Young, R-Aiken, Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and Joel Lourie, D-Richland, questioned Koller on the case of Robert Guinyard, a four-year-old who was beaten to death by his parents in 2013. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts opined in an earlier hearing that there was not enough oversight leading to his murder.

Koller disputed that, saying her agency’s wishes for the Guinyard’s parental rights to be terminated were overridden by a judge and the Richland County guardian ad litem program.

“When a tragedy like Robert’s takes place, someone has surely failed that child, first and foremost his parents who beat him to death,” Koller stated. “But sometimes others in that process as well, could have done more.”

She ordered an investigation into what happened and leveled some of the blame on law enforcement.

“The findings of the investigation…resulted in eight staff members no longer working at DSS, including many who failed to follow DSS established child protection protocol.” Koller said.

“I want you to know that we also found good work in Robert’s case, like the decision to go to court to free Robert and his sister,” she added.

AUDIO: Koller recaps Guinyard case (4:41)

This led to questioning of staff caseloads, a chronic complaint in hearings and in emails sent to the committee. Senators say they are concerned that stringent goals and statistical improvement are driving the agency–and driving workers away.

“I don’t think children should be considered goals. I think children are living, breathing human beings and not numbers,” challenged Sen. Shealy amidst scattered applause in the hearing room.

“I agree, I agree,” Koller shot back.”And if we don’t measure what we do and if we don’t be committed to improving the lives of children and we just hope and do the work and just hope it  comes out OK, you are not going to get good outcomes.”

Shealy countered,”But sometimes we let the numbers get in our way,”

“I have not done that ma’am.” Koller responded.

“Communities are a part of keeping children safe”
Another case under scrutiny involved the daycare death of 3-month-old Kellie Rynn Martin. Her mother testified that she saw the daycare listed on the DSS site.

Koller said that state law precluded DSS from inspecting the registered –not licensed– home daycare.

“We never got a complaint in seven years,” Koller said.

Prior to that, she says, there were complaints on the same home and they were corrected and “left alone.”

“We don’t get enough people calling in complaints,” Koller insisted. “Can you imagine the traffic of the parents coming and going of the parents picking these children up and dropping them off? Twenty-three children and there were supposed to be six there?”

“People need to understand that the communities are part of keeping children safe,” Koller told the senators.

Koller agreed to face the Senate panel again in two weeks.

SC Big Story: Poll shows Haley trending up, Graham has battle ahead

Top state political news for the day

The latest Winthrop Poll results show that U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham’s disapproval rating among registered voters has inched up.

The survey of 877 adult South Carolinians conducted April 6-13 indicates that the incumbent senator is showing some vulnerability as the disapproval rating among registered voters 43.8 percent is higher than his approval rating of 39.6 percent.

Poll Director Scott Huffmon cautioned that the difference between the two is just at the margin of error for the registered voter sample.

“He will be in trouble when his disapproval ratings shoot significantly passed his approval ratings, and polls of likely primary voters show him below 40 percent with very few undecided. That is a sign for trouble, but I don’t know of any legitimate polls showing that,” Huffmon said.”

Graham-HaleyGraham’s approval rating among all respondents went up 3.1 to 42.8 percent from the 39.7 percent when the last poll was taken in October 2013.

Huffmon says Graham has a huge war chest for his campaign, but that does not make him invulnerable, especially if one of the now six candidates can gain traction and show an ability to raise money in a relatively short amount of time.

“Our poll was conducted before Det Bowers got in the race, and Det Bowers is not well-known in the state: he is well-known in some circles like evangelical Christians. He has raised a significant amount of money, but he is still generally unknown and many of Graham’s challengers are. They have to start spending the money,” Huffmon told South Carolina Radio Network.

Along with Columbia pastor Det Bowers, the other GOP challengers are Upstate businessman Richard Cash, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, Lowcountry businesswoman Nancy Mace, State Senator Lee Bright, and Columbia attorney Benjamin Dunn.

The poll shows that 90.7 percent of registered voters said they do not consider themselves members of the Tea Party. Only 5.6 percent of registered voters said they were part of the Tea Party movement, but Huffmon says that small sample does not accurately reflect the movement’s influence.

Less than 6 percent of registered voters still translates to almost 160,000 people across the state and a 160,000 committed, active people have a voice that is far outsized of their actual numbers.”

Tea Party leaders have attacked Senator Graham saying he not conservative enough and is too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Nearly 50 percent of respondents approve of Governor Haley’s work and 35 percent disapprove. Huffmon says these numbers indicate that Democratic challenger Vincent Sheheen will have a hug hill to climb to upset the incumbent in a rematch of the gubernatorial race in 2010

“If she gets a strong turnout among her base, which our “likely voter in the GOP primary poll” in February showed was very strong, then she have solid support and Sheheen is going to have turn out all of his base and convince some independents to come his way. It’s still going to be tight, but she is holding steady at the moment,” Huffmon said.

 

SC OK with medical marijuana, according to new poll

South Carolina’s general adult population says they are OK with doctors prescribing marijuana to be smoked for medical reasons.

That’s according to a Winthrop Poll of 877 adults living in South Carolina released today.

The results show that 71.6 percent of all those polled said they should, while 66.7 percent of registered voters said yes Yet, that is as far as it goes as nearly 6 in 10 oppose the legalization of marijuana for personal use.

That is from a sample of the general population, almost evenly divided between male and female, almost half over 40 years old and predominantly white.

 

QUESTION:  Do you think doctors should or should not be allowed to prescribe actual marijuana for medical purposes to treat their patients?

All

Registered Voters

Should

71.6

66.7

Should NOT

23.2

27.2

Not Sure [volunteered]

4.1

5.0

Refused

1.1

1.1

 

 

QUESTION: Do you think marijuana should or should not be made legal for personal use?

All

Registered Voters

Should

37.4

33.4

Should NOT

57.7

61.9

Not Sure [volunteered]

4.0

4.0

Refused

0.9

0.8

April 2014 Winthrop Poll of Adults Living in South Carolina

SC Big Story: Senators race against a lawsuit and another election debacle

Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens)

Sen. Larry Martin says failure to fix the counties’ election setup would create havoc leading to voting day.

Senators are scrambling to fix how county election commissions are set up– because the way they were originally formed is probably unconstitutional.  Upstate voter activist Ned Sloan has sued South Carolina and the General Assembly over how lawmakers used their power to make local laws that did not apply statewide.  Single county state legislation is unconstitutional.  (READ MORE)

Sloan has changed the Legislature’s way of doing business in the past. One of his lawsuits stopped the unconstitutional practice of “bobtailing” bill together that are unrelated.

Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin , R-Pickens, wants to beat Sloan to it by undoing current county election commissions and voter registration boards.  His bill (S. 866) would have the governor appoint a joint election commission with the recommendation of the state legislators from that county.

Seven counties have split offices: Greenville, Spartanburg, Greenwood, Richland, Williamsburg, Horry and Dillon, so lawmakers are wrestling with how to allow them to stay intact.

The Senate approved an amendment that would give more weight to Senate lawmakers’ recommendations and would create more party balance. All of those have to be worked through and the bill passed along to the House before May 1, or the county boards stay as they are.  That would mean Sloan’s lawsuit moves forward and the potential for the upcoming election to be declared unconstitutional.

That kind of scenario is fresh in the minds of lawmakers, after hundred of candidates were dumped from the 2012 primary ballot over a technicality.

“If (the decision) happens right in the election cycle, which is entirely possible, we can have a real problem on our hands if the very folks who are conducting the elections are put out of business,” Martin told South Carolina Radio Network.

[Read more...]