Did you know Bible sales are exempt from Georgia sales taxes?
Me, either. But it's too late to take advantage of the break now; it's gone.
And Judge Richard Story gets the credit, or blame.
The Harlem native, a U.S. District judge serving in the Atlanta area, is busy presiding over the corruption trial of former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell. But he still has dropped a couple of bombshell rulings that have delighted and irritated the religious faithful.
We recently noted Story's refusal to prohibit Cobb County's Commission from opening its meetings with a prayer from local members of the clergy. Story ruled in the commissioners' favor because they had made an effort to allow all faiths to be represented.
This past week, Story struck down the nearly 50-year-old Georgia revenue rule exempting the Bible from sales taxes.
A Sandy Springs bookstore owner and a retired librarian brought the legal challenge, contending the law gave recognition to one religion over another.
The exemption started with an executive order from then-Gov. Earnest Vandiver in the 1950s. It was later extended by Gov. Lester Maddox, and approved by the Legislature. The state's Revenue Department has also in recent years given breaks to some Jewish and Muslim texts.
Story's ruling makes it clear either all religious books are exempt from sales tax, or none can be. The Constitution doesn't allow the government to single out one religion for preferential treatment.
Not surprisingly, some people are unhappy that the state will no longer subsidize Bible sales. A spokesman for Georgia's Christian Coalition called Story's ruling "an outrage" - and even said she'd oppose making the exemption legal by expanding it to other religious texts, which she called "metaphysical nonsense."
Georgia's lawmakers - some of whom were surprised to find out the 1950s-era exemption even existed - said they'd consider expanding the break to include all religious texts. I doubt that will happen.
After all, imagine the campaign in which an opponent says, "Did you know Rep. Jones voted to give tax exemptions to the Satanic Bible and to books on witchcraft?" Probably should just let this one go.
Losses in threes
Urban mythology says deaths come in threes, especially among celebrities. For Columbia County, this past week brought news of three sad deaths.
First was Mack Bartles, 72, a long-time fixture in the Phinizy community. Mr. Bartles, father-in-law of well-known Chamber booster Tommy Norris, passed away just more than a week ago.
A few days later, and a couple of miles down the road, came the death of David Bullard, 74, of Winfield. I've known Mr. Bullard my entire life; he was a farmer and a friend of my grandfather. He was even one of my school bus drivers when I was a kid.
The hardest shot, though, was the loss Sunday of Margie Adams, 79.
It was almost incidental that Mrs. Adams was a member of Grovetown City Council. She was far more than an elected official; she was an intimate part of the fabric of the community through her volunteer efforts on behalf of children. She was a devoted mentor for Grovetown Elementary and worked hard with her anti-drug summer camp.
In recent years her focus had shifted to include sending blankets, food and other items to our soldiers.
Her husband, Hoyt, told me that not long ago she even cooked dinner for the entire Grovetown Department of Public Safety, and baked cakes for some of the staff at Eisenhower Army Medical Center.
Mrs. Adams was one of the kindest, sweetest people to walk the planet, always thinking of others first. If every public official could serve that way, there would never be a complaint about politicians.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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