Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Navy Does About Face, Orders Return of Bibles to Guest Rooms

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Following a firestorm of protest from conservative Christian leaders and military organizations, the U.S. Navy has reversed its decision to remove Bibles from guest rooms on naval bases.

As reported August 13 by The New American, in March the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) claiming that two service members had complained that Gideon Bibles had been present in every Navy guest room they had stayed in over their decades of service, a situation FFRF found in need of remedy. What was more troubling to the FFRF was that no other religious texts, such as the Book of Mormon or the Islamic Koran, was ever available — only Bibles.

Claiming that the presence of religious materials violates the First Amendment's prohibition of the government's establishment of a religion, the FFRF demanded that the NEXCOM sanitize the Navy's guest lodges of the offending Bibles.

In June NEXCOM responded to the letter by ordering the removal of all Bibles by September 1 from the 34 lodge locations and 24,000 Navy Gateway Inns and Suites guest rooms on Navy bases around the world.

But through the efforts of such groups as the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, the Navy's cave-in to the FFRF received wide publicity, leading to a barrage of requests from individuals and organizations for the Navy to reconsider its Bible ban.

On August 15 Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces, reported that Navy higher-ups had indeed decided to reverse the order and have the Gideon Bibles returned to the guest rooms. Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry told Stars and Stripes via e-mail that the decision to remove the Bibles, along with the Navy's religious accommodation policies with “regard to the placement of religious materials are under review. While that review is under way, religious materials removed from Navy Lodge rooms will be returned.”

The FFRF had touted the Navy's original decision to remove the Bibles, exulting that NEXCOM had “taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government.” The atheist group made no comment with regard to the Navy's reversal and return of the Bibles.

However, Ron Crews, a retired U.S. Army Reserve chaplain and executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, expressed his gratitude that NEXCOM had listened to him and other Christian leaders about the importance of keeping Scripture accessible to those serving our nation in the military. Noting that Gideons International has always provided Bibles for free to the armed forces, Crews asserted that “if chaplains can be in the military, Bibles at no expense to the Navy can be in Navy lodges.”

He added,

[While] we certainly commend the Navy for allowing those Bibles to remain, there was really nothing to review concerning the decision.

Our nation has a history of religious accommodation for military personnel since George Washington established the chaplain corps in July 1775. Allowing Bibles in guest quarters is a continuation of our desire to serve those who serve us.

Responding to the Navy's about-face, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, himself a Marine Corps veteran, expressed his hope that the change in course represented the correction of an unintentional error:

However, for the military that relies upon precision in executing its mission, the number of errors we've seen on the religious liberty front is alarming.

The concern remains that the Navy's throwing the Bible overboard was not an isolated assault on religious freedom, but rather a growing pattern of hostility toward religion under the Obama Administration.

The encouraging signal from this incident was that when the American people see an attack on religious freedom they respond with all hands on deck, and as a result they prevailed.

Chaplain Crews noted,

It should be obvious by now that the American people want religious freedom in the military to be upheld. There are some in the current administration who do not seem to understand this. We sincerely trust that this will be the last time the Navy gives in to any demand that it trample on the religious freedom of the men and women who serve this country.

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