The U.S. Navy has caved in to the demands of an atheist group that it remove Bibles from guests rooms on naval bases.
In March, attorneys from the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) claiming that two “concerned service members” had independently contacted FFRF to complain that “every Navy lodging room that they have stayed in during decades of service has contained a Bible” — most of them provided by the Christian group Gideons International, which appears to be a particular target of the FFRF.
The FFRF was deeply worried, as noted in the letter, that materials from other faiths were “rarely” seen in the Navy guest rooms. “One complainant noted that he 'never saw a Book of Mormon or Koran' in any Navy-run lodge and that he had 'been in varied Navy Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQs) with Bibles,” wrote troubled FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel with a note of righteous concern.
Insisting that under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, “a government entity cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion,” Seidel charged that the Navy's longtime tradition of allowing Bibles in its guest rooms “amounts to a government endorsement of that religious text. Including Bibles sends the message to non-Christian ... guests that they should read the Bible.... The military should not promote certain religious beliefs by placing Bibles in guest rooms.”
Arguing that “government-run entities have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” Seidel and the FFRF demanded that the Navy remove the offensive Bibles from its guest rooms, and “provide us with a written response outlining the actions that your office is taking to remedy this constitutional violation.”
In June, NEXCOM responded to the demand with a directive that Bibles were to be removed from all Navy guest rooms until further review of Navy policy on religious materials. “The Navy Lodge General Manager should advise the Installation Commanding Officer of our intention to work through the chaplain’s office to determine what [the] installation policy is,” read the directive, “and the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms.” According to the order, all Bibles currently in Navy guest rooms were to be removed by September 1.
The directive does not say that Bibles will be prohibited from rooms in the future, but that in the future the commanding officer of a naval base will determine, “in accordance with personnel readiness and military regulations, whether [religious materials] will be accepted and how they will be handled and distributed.”
Addressing the FFRF's issue, NEXCOM spokeswoman Kathleen Martin told reporters that “we looked at our policy and realized there wasn’t a consistent policy regarding Navy Lodges. We decided we needed to have some consistency.”
According to a report by the American Family Association (AFA), a Navy lodging housekeeper wrote in an e-mail to the AFA: “We were told today, June 23, 2014, that due to a new policy by the CEO of NEXCOM, Rear Admiral Robert J. Bianchi, we were to remove the Bibles from the rooms. They told us to put them in boxes, where they would be taken to a donation center somewhere.”
The AFA reported that a NEXCOM directive ordered the removal of Bibles from 34 Navy Lodge locations and 24,000 Navy Gateway Inns and Suites guest rooms on Navy bases around the world. Lodge managers were ordered to contact base commanders and chaplains and facilitate removing the Bibles and other 'religious material currently in the guest rooms.'”
While it is probable, based on the published directive, that Bibles may again be available in some Navy guest rooms in the future, the FFRF trumpeted the NEXCOM action as a victory for atheists, with FFRF spokesman Sam Grover announcing, “We’re pleased that NEXCOM has taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government.... By removing Bibles from Navy-run lodges, the Navy has taken a step to ensure that it is not sending the impermissible message that Christians are favored over guests with other religious beliefs or over those guests with no religion.”
Among the conservative Christian leaders sounding off against the Navy's preliminary cave-in to the atheist attack was Ron Crews, a retired military chaplain and head of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “A Bible in a hotel room is no more illegal than a chaplain in the military,” said Crews of the FFRF's charge that the presence of the Bibles in Navy guest rooms was somehow unconstitutional. “They are there for those who want them.”
He added that “there is nothing wrong with allowing the Gideons to place Bibles in Navy lodges, which it has done for decades at no cost to the Navy. Our service men and women are often away from home, sometimes for long periods of time. It’s perfectly constitutional and legal to allow the Gideons to provide, at their own expense, this source of comfort for service men and women of faith.”
As for the ease with which Navy superiors surrendered to the atheist advance, Crews said that “it’s tiresome to see senior military leaders needlessly cave in to activist groups offended by anything Christian. We sincerely hope that the Navy will reverse its decision as the Air Force did in 2012 after the public spoke loudly and clearly against this sort of censorship.”
Crews was referring to the decision in 2012 by Air Force higher-ups to reverse their cave-in to the demands of another atheist group, the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). As reported at the time by The New American, following demands from MAAF, the Air Force dropped a policy that directed housekeepers to make certain there were Bibles in guest rooms on Air Force bases. “While the atheist group had wanted the Air Force to ban the Bibles, placed there for free by the Gideons, from the room altogether,” reported The New American, after deliberation the Air Force Services Agency decided instead to simply remove the question, 'Is a Bible provided?' from the lodging check list housekeepers go through in making up the rooms.”
An Air Force spokesman, Mike Dickerson, said at the time that while the checklist was being dropped, the Air Force was not prepared to sanitize Scripture from rooms entirely, as the atheist group had desired. “The Air Force has not directed the removal of Bibles from Air Force Inns lodging rooms at this time,” Dickerson said. “We continue to review the situation and weigh our multiple First Amendment responsibilities and obligations.”
Speaking of the present Navy actions, Mike Berry, director of military affairs at Liberty Institute, noted that “many of our military's religious traditions and observances pre-date America's founding, but groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation want to erase that history. We've seen Bibles temporarily banned from military hospitals, demands that veterans' memorials be torn down, and crosses removed from military chapels. This is just the latest in a well-documented pattern of hostility against religion in our military.”