May 17, 2013

Should Georgia state government promote religion? Of course not. That’s not the government’s job.

But some state officials seem to be taking on the task anyway. Gov. Nathan Deal this week ordered the state Department of Natural Resources to return Bibles to cabins and lodge rooms at state parks.

According to the Associated Press, the Gideon Bibles had been removed after Georgia resident Ed Buckner objected. Buckner and his family had rented a cabin at a north Georgia state park to celebrate his son's birthday. He was surprised and concerned to find Bibles placed there.

Buckner told the AP, “I think government entanglement with religion is a very dangerous thing. When you go into a state park cabin and the only piece of religious literature there is a Protestant Bible, that suggests the government's endorsed that particular perspective.”

Buckner took his objection to the management at the Amicalola Falls State Park. He was told the Bibles would be removed while the legal issue was reviewed.

Attorney General Sam Olens unfortunately decided that the Bibles don’t violate church-state separation because no state funds were used to pay for them.

On Wednesday, Gov. Deal ordered the Bibles returned.

In his statement, Deal said, “The attorney general and I agree that the state is on firm legal footing as we move to return the Bibles to the rooms. These Bibles are donated by outside groups, not paid for by the state, and I do not believe that a Bible in a bedside table drawer constitutes a state establishment of religion.”

Deal added, “In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

Hmmm. Really? Any group?

I don’t think the governor has thought this through. Does he really consider every state park cabin and lodge room to be a public forum where anyone can place literature?

I hope lots of folks take Deal up on his kind offer. Muslims can drop off Qurans, Hindus can provide the Bhagavad Gita, Scientologists can distribute some of L. Ron Hubbard’s many works on Dianetics and the Church of Satan can share copies of The Satanic Bible.

And, of course, the government can’t prefer religion over non-religion, so the cabin door will also be open to political works, right and left. How about a few copies of Lyndon LaRouche’s The Power of Reason: A Kind of Autobiography?

Gosh. With all this reading to do, Georgia campers may be too busy to get out on the park trail and enjoy the wilderness. At a minimum, it will certainly give Gov. Deal something to ponder. If he’s deluged with religious – and non-religious – literature, maybe he’ll rethink his position on this matter.

In conclusion, hats off to Ed Buckner. Ed is a long-time friend of Americans United. We salute his commitment to church-state separation! We encourage people to read his book In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty. Written with his son Michael, it makes the case for a high wall of separation between religion and government. Whether you’re an atheist or not, you’ll find a wealth of solid information.

Come to think of it, Ed’s book might make a good companion volume to the Gideon Bibles in all those Georgia state cabins!