AU Challenges Religious Calendar In South Carolina

A public works commission in a South Carolina community has stopped distributing 2005 calendars laden with religious art and messages after a protest from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

After being alerted to the calendars in late January by a resident, AU’s Legal Department sent a letter to the Greer mayor and city council alerting them to the Greer Commission of Public Work’s constitutionally suspect calendars.

“We are writing to inform you that it is unconstitutional for a municipal entity to align itself with one religion and to ask that the Commission stop distributing the calendars immediately,” wrote Alex J. Luchenitser, senior litigation counsel for Americans United.

The Greer calendar included Christian art for every month, and every day included Christian sayings or Bible passages.

On Feb. 1, the Greer Commission of Public Works issued a statement that it would “reluctantly” stop issuing the Christian-themed calendars.

“When a question was recently raised, we reviewed the facts and the current legal decisions with our legal counsel,” the Commission stated. “Very reluctantly and in the interest of harmony we have determined to discontinue the use of a religious theme because of the growing diversity in our area.”

Georgia Gov.Seeks To Gut Church-State Provisions

An effort by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to add an amendment to the state constitution gutting the church-state provisions of that document has stalled for now.

Georgia senators voted 35-20 on Feb. 10 in favor of sending the amendment to the voters but fell short of the two-thirds vote required. A vote to reconsider was pending as Church & State went to press.

Republicans took control of both the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate after November’s elections. In the wake of that, Perdue, a Republican, said he would ask lawmakers to approve a so-called “Faith and Family Services Amendment,” which he says will pave the way for a “faith-based” initiative in the state.

Critics said the proposed constitutional amendment would essentially eviscerate the state’s current constitutional provision, which calls for a strict separation of church and state. The current language reads in part, “No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.”

Opponents also said the amendment is not needed, pointing out that religious groups can accept tax aid as long as they don’t use it for sectarian purposes. Some speculated that the governor’s ultimate goal is to bring private-school vouchers to the state.

The Georgia Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State strongly opposed the amendment and urged residents to speak out.

In a Feb. 2 editorial, the Macon Telegraph opposed the move.

“This is one case where the Constitution should be left alone,” the Telegraph argued. “And any vote against the proposed bill by members of either party should not be seen or labeled as an anti-faith, anti-God vote. That would be an unfair and dishonest characterization of their intent, to protect the constitutionally mandated separation of state-sponsored religious doctrine.”