Looking to get away with his family, atheist Ed Buckner rented a cabin at a north Georgia state park, only to find the state-owned cabin had been tainted—with Bibles.
Believing that no religious literature should be provided in government-owned lodging, he presented his complaint to the management at Amicalola Falls State Park.
Officials told Buckner the Bibles would be removed from all state park resorts while the state attorney general investigated. Not long afterward, however, Attorney General Sam Olens issued a ruling: The state was on firm legal ground because it hadn’t paid for the books. On Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal stood behind that ruling and ordered the Bibles returned.
The state didn’t pay for them, so it can’t be seen as an endorsement of religion, Deal said, adding that any religious group can donate literature. Bucker is pondering his next move—one would be to test the state’s offer to accept literature from other religions in state-owned lodging. He also said if an organization with similar concerns wanted to launch a lawsuit over the issue, he’d be all in.
But Edward Queen, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta and director of the school's Ethics and Servant Leadership program, said he sees no obvious legal grounds for a challenge.
"The fact that you have an inherently sectarian religious document on state property, that in and of itself presents no real challenge if the state has not purchased it," Queen said. "Where it might possibly become an issue is if the state were to refuse to do the same thing for other groups.”
The National Park Service contracts with private operators to manage lodging, and it's up to those operators whether they want to put Bibles or other religious literature in the rooms, said Bill Reynolds, assistant regional director for the Southeast. The park service neither requires nor bans the provision of Bibles, he said.
William Hunter, a Sunday school teacher who was visiting Georgia's Fort McAllister Historic State Park south of Savannah on Thursday, said he wholeheartedly supported having Bibles in state-owned cabins.
"I know that Gideon Bibles have saved people's lives," said Hunter, a retired government civil service worker who sat in the shade outside his camper at the park's campground. "They go into a motel room and are going to blow their brains out. And then they find that Bible."
Hunter’s wife, Nancy, agreed.
"That's a problem with the United States today is they're taking Jesus Christ out of so many things," she said.
Making Bibles available on state property was not an issue for park visitor Rebecca Wade, either.
"I don't mind the separation between church and state, but people are getting carried away to the point that it's crazy," Wade said. "Nobody's going to pick a Bible up if they don't want to."