The agency that oversees South Carolina’s Highway Patrol said Friday it will no longer provide a book on grieving that uses Christian symbolism and prayers to surviving family of traffic victims.
The state Department of Public Safety (DPS) decided to end its practice of sending the book “A Time To Grieve” to families of people who died on South Carolina roadways after a non-religious group cried foul over the practice.
“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.” DPS spokeswoman Sherri Iacobelli said in a statement.
The American Humanist Association had sent a letter to the agency earlier this week on behalf of an Anderson County woman who received the book after a wreck that killed her father. The Humanists Association claims the book offers advice on the grieving process, but also touts a Christian message. “A Time to Grieve” features a small cross on the cover as well as touting Bible passages and Christian beliefs in its pages.
“There is no reason that the state should be assuming that the families of accident victims are Christian and would welcome a Christian message or any particular religious message for that matter,” AHA legal director David Niose said.
South Carolina saw more than 970 deaths in motor vehicle accidents the past two years. Iacobelli said the department recently began sending a copy of “Time to Grieve” to each victim’s family, although it hoped victims would focus on the book’s message of handling grief instead of its minor Christian themes.
“Through the years, family members have reached out to the department in search of resources following a motor vehicle collision.” said Iacobelli “In addition to meeting our basic mission of investigating the collision, victims’ families receive a sympathy card from us; a booklet that provides guidance about planning and considerations after a sudden loss; and the ‘A Time to Grieve’ booklets, which we recently began disseminating.”
Under previous court interpretations of the First Amendment clause, government agencies cannot publicly endorse one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.
Niose said his organization does not object to Christianity, but rather the Department of Public Safety’s actions he said violates the First Amendment.
“We are not trying to be anti-Christian in any way.” Niose said. “We would be objecting just as stringently if we saw the state send out a Muslim book to a grieving family, or a Hindu book.”
The Anderson Independent-Mail reports DPS spent over $6,000 a year out of their general budget on the book.