STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Pennsylvania State University is pulling Gideon Bibles from its guest rooms and moving them to its libraries and other public spaces following a complaint from a prominent atheist activist organization.
University spokesperson Lisa Powers told the Centre Daily Times that officials made the move “in the spirit of recognizing other religions and beliefs among our guests” after Penn State received a letter from the Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF). The organization had asserted that presence of the Bibles, located at the Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, presented a constitutional violation.
“State-run colleges have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” the letter, written in June by FFRF attorney Elizabeth Cavell, contended. “When a government entity like PSU distributes religious material to visitors, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message.”
“As you may know, the mission of the Gideons is to ‘win the lost for Christ.’ The Gideon Bible and the Gideons’ efforts to proselytize have frequently brought about conflict with nonreligious persons and persons from minority faiths,” Cavell said. “Individuals, not the state, must determine what religious texts are worth reading.”
On Friday, Penn State confirmed that the Bibles were indeed being relocated following FFRF’s complaint.
“Penn State decided to remove Bibles from individual guest rooms in both of its hotels, The Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, and to place them in public access areas,” Powers stated. “In the past few decades, the world and its people have changed dramatically. We wish to be respectful of all religions, and also of those who have differing beliefs, yet we still wanted to ensure the publication was available to those who desire to read it while staying with us.”
But Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a Christian legal organization headquarted in Scottsdale, Arizona, has now also sent a letter to the university to request that the Bibles be returned to the rooms.
“No court in the country has ever ruled that allowing Bibles to be placed in the guest rooms of government-run guest facilities violates the First Amendment,” the letter, written by litigation staff counsel Travis Barham, states. “Rather, the Establishment Clause allows private individuals and groups, like the Gideons, to place Bibles at their expense on government property. In fact, by removing the Bibles from the guest rooms, Penn State may have demonstrated the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment prohibits.”
“Numerous courts across the country have affirmed the Gideons’ right to distribute Bibles in schools, and even more—including ones in the Third Circuit–have affirmed private citizens’ right to share religious literature at public schools on equal terms with those promoting non-religious literature,” he added.
As previously reported, FFRF also convinced the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University to remove Gideon Bibles from its guest rooms.
“Many of our founding fathers read the Bible, quoted the Bible, and believed the Bible,” Jeff Shergalis, assistant pastor at Madison Baptist Church in Wisconsin, told Christian News Network.. “It seems very sad when a city that is named for a president who declared a ‘National Day of Prayer and Fasting’ is so quick to remove God and His Word from its facilities.”