SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A prominent Christian legal organization has sent rebuttal letters to two public universities that recently decided to remove all Gideon Bibles from their hotel rooms in response to complaints from an atheist activist organization.
As previously reported, the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University were contacted by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) last month after they received anonymous complaints surrounding the Gideon Bibles that are placed in the university hotel rooms.
The organization asserted that the presence of the Bibles at University of Wisconsin’s Lowell Center and Iowa State University’s Memorial Union violated the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” FFRF also contended that the Bibles signified the promotion of Christianity by a government-0wned university.
“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a government entity cannot promote, advance or otherwise endorse religion,” one letter stated. “Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms constitutes state endorsement and advancement of these Christian publications.”
Both universities responded by advising that they would remove the Bibles from all guest rooms, and Iowa State University said that the copies would be moved to the library beginning in March.
But this week, the Arizona-based Christian legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) sent letters to both the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University to urge officials to leave the Bibles in place. The letters outlined that FFRF’s reasoning was flawed and not in alignment with legal precedent.
“In reality, the First Amendment does not require you to remove these Bibles, and by removing them, you may have demonstrated the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment prohibits,” it wrote. “The Supreme Court and numerous other federal courts have repeatedly condemned efforts to exclude or restrict religious materials and activities as viewpoint or content discrimination, both at universities and elsewhere.”
“[C]ontrary to what FFRF implied, the Establishment Clause does not require government entities to dissociate themselves from everything religious,” the letters continued. “Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly made it clear that the Constitution does not ‘require complete separation of church and state.’ Rather, it ‘affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.'”
ADF then warned that the universities, in heeding the advice of FFRF, could now be held liable for unlawful religious discrimination by generally allowing materials in hotel rooms while censoring anything of a religious viewpoint.
“[B]y succumbing to FFRF’s demands, you may have exposed yourself … to potential liability. Presumably, your guest rooms include a variety of printed materials, including magazines, phone books, and information about the campus and guest facility,” it explained. “By removing the Bibles because they are religious, you may have engaged in viewpoint discrimination, which is ‘an egregious form of content discrimination’ and a ‘blatant’ violation of the First Amendment.”
ADF urged both universities to restore the Bibles to the rooms lest they continue violating the Constitution.
It remains to be seen how officials at University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University will respond.