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This Week in God, 4.5.14

An 8-year-old South Carolina girl wanted to create an official state fossil. But there was a problem: creationists in the legislature don't like fossils.
Karen Fralich of Canada finishes a sand sculpture at the Sand Museum in the Tottori Dune on April 3, 2014 in Tottori, Japan.
Karen Fralich of Canada finishes a sand sculpture at the Sand Museum in the Tottori Dune on April 3, 2014 in Tottori, Japan.
First up from the God Machine this week is a bizarre story out of South Carolina that would be hard to believe if it weren't 100% true.
Just about every state has official declarations honoring qualities that make it unique. South Carolina, for example, has an official state tree, state flower, state bird, state stone, state fish, state fruit, state dog, and even state opera.
It does not, however, have an official state fossil -- an oversight eight-year-old Olivia McConnell hoped to change.

The third grader at Carolina Academy in Lake City wrote a letter to her state lawmakers -- Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Sen. Kevin Johnson, both D-Clarendon -- asking them to sponsor a bill to make the wooly mammoth the official state fossil. But, first -- before she could write the letter -- she told herself she had to come up with three good reasons that the mammoth should be the state fossil. "We can't just say we need a sate fossil because I like fossils," McConnell said. "That wouldn't make sense." So Olivia gave her reasons: 1. One of the first discoveries of a vertebrae fossil in North America was on an S.C. plantation when slaves dug up wooly mammoth teeth from a swamp in 1725. 2. All but seven states have an official state fossil. 3. "Fossils tell us about our past."

The girl's representatives liked the idea and introduced bills on her behalf. All seemed to be going well -- the effort passed the state House 94 to 3 -- right up until state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) said the bill needed to be amended. As he saw it, before South Carolina could have a state fossil, the legislation must also include language from the Book of Genesis, crediting "the creator" for having created woolly mammoths and everything else.
When Bryant's proposal was ruled out of order on procedural grounds, the Republican state lawmaker tried again, insisting that the bill describe the mammoth "as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field." Soon after, another GOP state senator, whose district includes Bob Jones University, put a hold on the legislation.
By this point, the fiasco was garnering national attention, to the annoyance of the South Carolina state Senate leadership. Towards the end of the week, an exasperated majority leader, Harvey Peeler, brought the resolution to the floor -- without the "creator" reference, but with the "sixth day" reference.
It passed unanimously.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* Following up on a story from last week, Wilton Gregory, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta, apologized on Monday for his previous plan to build a new $2.2 million home for himself.
* With Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) signing a new "religious liberty" into law this week, it seems few cheered louder than the Mississippi Baptist Convention (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the tip).
* A provocative new faith-based film opened domestically two weeks ago called, "God's Not Dead," about a Christian college student challenging an atheist philosopher professor (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up). It's causing a stir in evangelical circles.
* A fascinating report from National Public Radio: "Televangelists have a choice when they deal with the IRS. Some ... register as religious organizations. They're exempt from most taxes but still must file disclosure reports showing how they make and spend their money. Daystar and dozens of others call themselves churches, which enjoy the greatest protection and privacy of all nonprofit organizations in America. Churches avoid not only taxes, but any requirement to disclose their finances. And, as NPR has learned, for the past five years churches have avoided virtually any scrutiny whatsoever from the federal government's tax authority" (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And TV preacher Pat Robertson this week interviewed far-right rabbi Daniel Lapin, and introduced his guest by asking: "What is it about Jewish people that make them prosper financially? You almost never find Jews tinkering with their cars on the weekends or mowing their lawns. That's what Daniel Lapin says and there's a very good reason for that, and it lies within the business secrets of the Bible." Robertson added that Jews are "polishing diamonds, not fixing cars."