The prospect of an atheist holding public office in South Carolina is apparently big enough of a concern to lead South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) into a public squabble online with a state lawmaker and political ally, Buzzfeed reported.
The dispute began on Wednesday, when Haley accused state Sen. Katrina Shealy (R) on Facebook of spreading the allegation that Lillian Koller, who heads the state Department of Social Services, is an atheist.
“I wish you and Sen. Shealy would stop spreading that lie,” Haley told a commenter on her Facebook page praising Koller’s recent testimony to a Senate committee. “She is Jewish and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.”
Shealy shot back, writing that she was disappointed in Haley. Shealy also described Haley’s comment to Buzzfeed as “immature and childish,” while adding that while she was told Koller was Jewish, she “can’t verify that one way or another.”
“The fact is I told her staff about a rumor I heard in confidence and they clarified in me that she was Jewish,” Shealy wrote on Haley’s page, before directly addressing Haley: “It is a shame that words spoken in confidence with your staff are repeated on your Facebook page.”
The State reported that Koller, who was appointed by Haley to lead the department in 2010, suffered a stroke in December and has been under medical orders to rest.
“She has answered all questions with full transparency,” Haley said of Koller’s testimony. “Amazing that senators are criticizing her for setting goals and accomplishing them. She has dramatically improved the agency since she took over in 2010 in spite of this political games by certain senators.”
However, Shealy rejected Haley’s reasoning in a post on her own Facebook page, saying Koller spent most of her 45 minutes before the committee discussing one particular case involving a child who was reportedly killed by his parents after they were granted custody.
“We then asked questions — nothing that she should not be able to answer,” Shealy wrote. “She was given the information in advance. Now we have been accused of picking on her and I have been accused of calling her an atheist.”
Haley has reportedly not issued a comment on her disagreement with Shealy.
The dispute between Shealy and Haley has surprised some, because the two have reportedly been allies since Haley supported Shealy’s successful 2012 campaign against Sen. Jake Knotts (R).
But while Shealy initially denied having a problem if Shealy were an atheist or not, she backtracked from that allegation in her post, writing, “I care about the children of SC and I don’t give a flying flip what the Director is… Well that is not true either, I would worry if she were atheist but I was told she wasn’t so why would they bring that back up?? Maybe they need to explain that to me?”