WASHINGTON — A coalition of Christian leaders sent a letter this week to the Pentagon in support of allowing Gideon Bibles to remain in Navy lodges despite a complaint from a prominent atheist organization.
As previously reported, 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 that Bibles currently in hotel rooms on naval bases must be removed by September 1st.
But last month, spokepersons for the Navy advised that NEXCOM made the decision without consulting senior officials, and directed that any Bibles that have been removed from guest rooms be replaced while Navy policy is reviewed by the proper hierarchy.
On Wednesday, a group of Christian leaders, known as the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition, sent a letter to Secretary of State Chuck Hagel and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to request that the Bibles be allowed to remain indefinitely through proposed Department of Defense (DOD) policy. Col. Ronald Crews of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Lt. General William Boykin of Family Research Council and MG. Paul Vallely of Stand Up America were among the over 20 leaders who signed the correspondence.
“The mere presence of a Gideon Bible in a hotel room does not constitute a form of messaging from the proprietor to the guest,” the letter contended. “In the same way that no one is coerced into watching a religious television channel simply because it is available as a choice in most cable television packages, no visitor to a Navy lodge is coerced into reading a Bible simply because it is present in a night stand.”
It pointed to the recent Supreme Court ruling surrounding prayer during city council meetings for reinforcement.
“We understand that some may claim to take offense at the presence of the Gideon Bibles in the guest rooms. That mere fact does not constitute a constitutional problem to be fixed,” the coalition outlined. “As the Supreme Court observed recently in Town of Greece v. Galloway, ‘Offense, however, does not equate to coercion. Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable; and an Establishment Clause violation is not made out any time a person experiences a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views…'”
The letter also noted that even during WWII President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote an inscription on the flyleaf of pocket Bibles that were to be distributed to the Armed Forces.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States,” he wrote on January 25, 1941. “Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”
“Chaplains on Navy bases and ships aren’t illegal, and neither are Bibles in Navy lodges. Rather than surrender to the misguided demands of activists with inaccurate views of the very Constitution that our service men and women fight to preserve, the Navy should adopt a policy in keeping with the First Amendment—that donated Bibles are welcome in Navy lodging as they always have been,” said ADF Chief Solicitor Gary McCaleb in a press release announcing the letter. “As the coalition letter indicates, support for such a policy has deep and undeniable roots in both American history and Supreme Court precedent. We encourage the Navy to take a strong stand in the face of this hollow threat.”