The U.S. Navy has directed that Bibles be removed from hotel rooms on naval bases following a complaint from a prominent atheist organization, reports state.
In March of this year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) advising that two unidentified service members contacted them to report that “every Navy lodging room they have stayed in during decades of service contained a Bible” but rarely other religious or non-religious books. The organization asserted that such practice is unconstitutional and shows favoritism toward Christianity.
“Providing Bibles to guests in Navy-run hotels amounts to a government endorsement of that religious text,” the letter stated. “Including Bibles sends the message to non-Christian and non-religious guests that they should read the Bible… Such a practice alienates non-Christian guests whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the Bibles, including the 20% of the U.S. population that is nonreligious.”
Following receipt of the letter, NEXCOM issued a directive—which has now just been made public—that Bibles currently in hotel rooms on naval bases must be removed by September 1st.
“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 and the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms,” it read.
It also noted that the “Commanding Officer [will] determine, in accordance with personnel readiness and military regulations, whether [future] materials will be accepted and how they will be handled and distributed.”
The Bibles had been placed through the years by various groups, including Gideons International.
“We looked at our policy and realized there wasn’t a consistent policy regarding Navy Lodges,” NEXCOM spokesperson Kathleen Martin told reporters. “We decided we needed to have some consistency and be consistent with the Navy.”
FFRF is now claiming the directive as a victory for its cause.
“We’re pleased that NEXCOM has taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government,” stated FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover. “The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment requires the government not to play favorites when it comes to religious or nonreligious beliefs.”
“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,” he said.
But the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty disagrees and finds the outcome to be outrageous.
“A Bible in a hotel room is no more illegal than a chaplain in the military,” said Director Col. Ron Crews, a former U.S. Chaplain. “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.”