REGIONAL—The best-selling book in history continues to be one of the most contentious.
The controversial Iowa 99-County Bible Reading Marathon is scheduled to take place 8 a.m. Thursday, June 30, through Sunday afternoon, July 3, in front of at least 51 of the state’s 100 county courthouses — Lee County in the southeast corner of Iowa has two such structures — though some counties will start the process earlier in the week.
The Bible reading marathon is the brainchild of Ginny Caligiuri, who lives in the south-central Iowa city of Osceola. She is the founder of Kingdom Builder Enterprises, which describes itself as “a multi-faceted organization that brings change to society by applying biblical principles.”
She also is the state director for the Iowa Prayer Caucus, the state leader for the National Governors’ Prayer Team and the state director for the U.S. National Prayer Council.
“Our nation is in kind of a disarray, as most people know,” Caligiuri said. “When we had prayer removed from public schools in the ’60s, divorce rates went up, abortions went up. The whole complexity of our nation changed drastically right after that happened.
“Please join us as we begin the journey of connecting every county in Iowa through the reading of His Word, out loud, in front of every courthouse,” she continued. “We will unite in honoring God’s Holy Word and celebrating our First Amendment freedoms. We will unify the body of Christ around the Holy Bible. We will re-establish the reading of the Word in every home so that we may hear His Word, know His Word and be doers of His Word.”
‘Stuck in my spirit’
Caligiuri started putting together the statewide Bible reading marathon in February, but the idea first came to her in 2014.
“The Lord a couple of years ago stuck in my spirit about doing this in front of every county courthouse,” she said.
Caligiuri divided the state into 12 regions, including a nine-county one in the northwest corner of Iowa.
In N’West Iowa, Lyon, O’Brien and Osceola counties are not taking part in the statewide Bible reading marathon, but Sioux County may participate, although Caligiuri still was trying to confirm that Friday.
Of the area surrounding N’West Iowa, Buena Vista, Cherokee, Clay and Dickinson counties are participating; Plymouth County also may take part.
Caligiuri thinks this is the first time a Bible reading marathon has been attempted across all 99 Iowa counties at once.
She said the Bible readings will take place outside of county courthouses.
“In many of the counties, it will be starting June 30 at 8 o’clock in the morning and reading around the clock through July 3,” Caligiuri said. “It’ll probably end between 4 and 6 p.m. It takes approximately 80 hours to read the Bible through. We’ll be starting in Genesis and reading all the way through the Book of Revelations nonstop.
“There are some counties that they cannot be on the grounds after a certain hour,” she continued. “So we have some counties that are starting on Tuesday or Wednesday and they’re starting at like 6 or 7 in the morning and they’re going until 10:30, 11 at night.”
‘Interest and support’
Caligiuri put together a similar, smaller Bible reading marathon for Jan. 4-12 in the rotunda at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.
“We could only be there when the Capitol was open,” she said. “It was on the last day at the Capitol that I announced that I’d get to the courthouses.”
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a proclamation on April 26 that encouraged all Iowans to join in the statewide Bible reading marathon and encouraged “individuals and families in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.”
“That’s when we really began to send that out and let people know in a bigger way,” Caligiuri said.
During a visit to Sheldon on Thursday, Branstad spoke to The REVIEW about the proclamation.
“There are a lot of Iowans that are concerned about what’s going on in the world,” Branstad said. “They believe that reading the Bible and praying is a good thing. I’m pleased to hear the kind of interest and support across the state.”
His proclamation has been heavily criticized by the Des Moines-based American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa and the Freedom From Religion Foundation based in Madison, WI.
Both organizations are considering a lawsuit against the state of Iowa, claiming that Branstad violated the separation of church and state, unless Branstad rescinds the proclamation, which both groups consider unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Iowa — the state affiliate of the national ACLU — is a private, nonpartisan, nonprofit group that fights to advance civil liberties for all.
“The governor’s proclamation is frankly outrageous and embarrassing, and inconsistent with our core American and Iowan principles of inclusion and respect of all its people of all faiths, as well as those who are not religious,” said Rita Bettis, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa. “Signed ‘In the Name and by the Authority of the State of Iowa,’ it promotes a particular religion and goes so far as to ‘encourage individuals and families in Iowa to read through the Bible on a daily basis each year until the Lord comes.’
“Our U.S. and Iowa state constitutions protect from precisely this sort of government overreaching and endorsement of a particular faith,” she said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nonprofit educational charity that is dedicated to the separation of church and state, with 23,800 nonreligious members nationwide, including almost 200 in Iowa.
“It’s beyond the civil powers of a governor to use his office to promote belief in a god, to single out one religion’s so-called holy book, to participate in a marathon Bible reading — much less to encourage citizens to read it daily ‘until the Lord comes,’” said Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Imagine the outcry if the governor signed a proclamation to encourage daily reading of the Quran — or Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion.’ Encouraging reading of the Christian Bible is equally inappropriate.”
The ACLU of Iowa and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have been joined by the American Humanist Association, based in Washington, D.C., and the Des Moines-based Iowa Atheists and Freethinkers in contacting Branstad’s office and objecting to the proclamation.
The Family Leader, a social conservative political organization based in Urbandale and led by Sheldon native Bob Vander Plaats, did its own detailed analysis of the controversy and concluded:
- Not only is Branstad’s proclamation clearly constitutional, but he should be thanked for being humble enough to look to a higher power — and not just any higher power, but the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word.
- There are many other examples of such activities by U.S. presidents and governors throughout American history, so in light of this, Branstad is well within his constitutional rights as governor of a free state to encourage Bible reading in Iowa and to issue religious proclamations generally.
The governor signs hundreds of proclamations for what he calls “good causes.”
“Just about every president of the United States in modern history has done something similar,” Branstad said of his proclamation. “Even President Barack Obama has signed similar proclamations. Most other governors have.”
Branstad is surprised that there are groups threatening to sue the state of Iowa over the proclamation because he said it does not have the force of law.
“Obviously, there’s nothing mandatory about it,” he said. “In every case, the governors’ and presidents’ proclamations have been upheld, so we are not concerned about that. We’re confident we would win if they do.”
Branstad has received much support for the proclamation in addition to criticism.
“In my job, you’ve got to have a thick skin,” he said. “You’ve got to try to do the right thing regardless of what criticism you might get.”
FOR MORE INFO:
To learn more about the Iowa 99-County Bible Reading Marathon, contact Ginny Caligiuri, the founder of Kingdom Builder Enterprises, at 641-223-0166 or IowaBibleReadingMarathon@gmail.com, or visit www.kingdombuilderenterprises.com.