It seems as if Georgia has become something of a flashpoint in the debate over separation of church and state lately.
Last year at this time there was a big brouhaha over prayers being offered and hymns being sung at high school graduations right here in Houston County, which eventually led to our superintendent banning such things from being part of the official program at future graduations. Now the state is making national news over the practice of Gideons International being allowed to place Bibles in government-operated cabins at state parks.
An atheist named Ed Buckner was disturbed to find a Gideon Bible next to his bed in his cabin at Amicola State Park last month and when he complained to management they temporarily removed all Bibles from their cabins. The state attorney general soon ruled that the state was not running afoul of the law by allowing the Gideons to Bible-up state park cabins since the books were provided for free and Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the Bibles returned.
Predictably enough, atheist organizations are now requesting that they be allowed to place their own literature in state park cabins and the state has little choice but to allow them to do so unless they want to be sued. The governor has said (presumably with a straight face) that of course atheists can place their own literature in state park cabins next to the Bible, but he “can’t guarantee its safety.”
I suppose that might be the end of the story, if the world were made up of only Christians and atheists. But as it turns out, there are lots of religions in the world, and lots of them have their own version of holy scripture. Catholics will want their version of the Bible placed next to the protestant version the Gideons distribute. Jews will want the Torah and the Talmud in the same drawer, and the Muslims will certainly feel left out if they don’t have a copy of the Koran tucked in there as well.
Let’s not forget the Book of Mormon, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, and of course we’ll need to throw in a copy of Dianetics for the Scientologists. We will also need to save a lot of room for Buddhist and Hindu scriptures because there are quite a few sacred texts associated with those religions.
The real fun will start when the pagans want to bless each cabin nightstand with a book on witchcraft. I know religious folks who won’t let their kids read Harry Potter books for fear they will develop a curiosity for the dark arts. Just imagine what will happen when mom tells little Johnny to look for a phone book in one of our state cabin nightstands and he pulls out a copy of the “Book of Shadows.” Hilarity will, no doubt, ensue.
Being a Libertarian, I’m fine with all of it. Let everyone have their say. The truth has nothing to fear from honest inquiry, and your faith doesn’t have much value if it can’t stand up to contrary viewpoints.
The only problem I see is that the bedside drawers in our state cabins are not going to be big enough to hold the holy books of all the world’s religions. Maybe everyone who wants to place a book in a cabin can contribute a nominal fee, say a dollar per cabin, to generate a bookshelf-building fund. Our state cabins could become known as a Mecca for the study of world religions, where people come to ponder the faiths of the world against a backdrop of Georgia’s finest natural wonders.
It will all be great until someone defaces a copy of the Koran in one of our cabins and someone snaps a picture of it and puts it on the Internet. How exciting it will be to be governor of Georgia when that day comes.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Centerville. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his blog at nscsense.blogspot.com.