Walter Reed Bible Banning Caper

Google “Walter Reed bans Bibles,” and you’ll find a long list of sensational articles lamenting the decision of Walter Reed officials to “ban” Bibles.  The rhetoric has it that Walter Reed officials were attempting to prevent families from bringing Bibles to injured family members.  Rhetoric has it that the establishment is trying to eradicate Christianity from the nation.  Unfortunately rhetoric also has a voice in Congress as Rep. Steve King (R-IA) stood on the floor of the House saying this was a direct attack against Christianity.   He even used this as a political opportunity to suggest Obama (who has nothing to do with this) is anti-Christian.

So what is the real story?

Walter Reed officials published a memo restricting the activities of “Partners in Care” who are “visiting in an official capacity.”  This means the policy applies only to unrelated individual, not family, who wish to visit a wounded, ill, or injured patients.  This means that visitors will no longer be allowed to use official visits or volunteer activities as an opportunity to proselytize.  The fury arises from a lost avenue to exploit wounded, ill, and injured personnel to spread Christianity.  The anger arises here just as it did at the Houston VA and Arlington Cemetery when volunteers were prevented from proselytizing at funerals.

From the evidence available, medical center officials should be praised for putting in proper and reasonable controls. Christian patients have free and open access to Bibles and religious services upon request.  Chaplains are assigned to Walter Reed to accommodate any religious requests patients may have.  Official visits for a religious purposes could still be organized through the hospital chaplains, thus providing the proper direction of those services only to those who request them and only with the proper oversight of the chaplaincy.  And again, none of this applies to a family visit.

All of these comments are presented with the information available.  Walter Reed has not answered requests for clarification and has yet to publish a replacement memorandum. Which means, presumably, that unsolicited Bible-based official visits to patients continue unrestricted.  Let us hope Walter Reed does not cave in to those who want to “visit” only if they can use the opportunity to proselytize.

Update 12/18:  The memorandum is now available and could be read as applying to families.  That possible misconception could be entirely resolved by changing “a visit” to “a non-family visit” in item 8f.

About Jason Torpy

**Comments at Friendly Atheist do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers are any other organizations.** Jason Torpy serves as President of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (MAAF), a nonprofit community for atheists and humanists in the military. MAAF also educates military leaders about the needs of nontheists and advocates where necessary. Jason is a former Army Captain and Iraq veteran with a Bachelor of Science degree from West Point and an MBA from The Ohio State University.

  • Anonymous

    Other than the psychological torture of children with the threat of hellfire I can think of little more despicable than to take advantage of the pain and fear of an injured person, or the grief of a surviving relative in order to push your religious agenda. I’ve never raised my hand at anyone, but if I were burying a loved one and someone came up at me with a Bible trying to get me to sign on to their club, I’d be sorely tempted to show them where they could shove their theology.

      Chaplains are assigned to Walter Reed to accommodate any religious requests patients may have.

    Unless those patients are nonbelievers, in which case they’ll be lucky to not get a sermon about saving their souls, rather than the emotional support they require.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder why no one was upset about the similar restrictions on baked goods?

  • randall.morrison90

    The trouble is that Christians are obligated to spread the word. 

    If the law is against them, tough cookies.

    • Anonymous

      What kind of jobs can Christians hold if they feel obligated to “spread the word” while on the clock?  That’s what this really is about here.

    • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

      To bad Christians can’t be content with just believing in private…
      perhaps slightly embarrassed about their unsubstantiated beliefs. 
      That would make for a much better society.

  • randall.morrison90

    Besides, don’t kid yourselves…plenty of atheists have admitted to me that they would eliminate religion if they had the power.

    There are those among you who will never submit to the rule of an Officially Atheistic State, as has been attempted in other countries.

    And the Officially Atheistic States will self destruct, as they have in the past.

    • p4ul47

      Tere is at least a aountry in Europe whose constitution states that it is atheist (I think it’s Czech Republic but I’m really bad at Geography) and they ahevn’t self destructed.

    • Anonymous

      Total non sequitur

    • JeffSherry

      randall, many of us are very much in favor of a secular state which does not push specific religions or sects of religion on its citizens.

      On the other side of your argument monolithic religious states heven’t fared very well in meeting the needs of its people.

      WRH made a great choice in removing proselytizers from the hospital. The spiritual needs of the patients are being met  by the chaplains.

      • Anonymous

        Many religionists have serious trouble distinguishing a secular from an atheistic state. Huge difference

    • Anonymous

      What is an officially atheistic state?  State promotion of atheism occurred in Revolutionary France and was repeated in Revolutionary Mexico and some Communist states.  Are you perhaps referring to the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania?

      I would like to see religion die out but that is very different to your implication that we would wipe it out by force.  I want to see humanity evolve beyond the need for religion and to stop using it as an excuse to treat other people like shit.  I’d like to see religion dead so that asshats like those at Walter Reed will no longer have an excuse to butt in to other people’s lives when they are already difficult enough.

  • http://www.agnostic-library.com/ma/ PsiCop

    Gee, I love how Christians seek out vulnerable populations stuck in fixed places — in this case, wounded soldiers recuperating at Walter Reed — then exploit them as conversion fodder. How ethical of them. They must be so proud!

    … so proud of it, in fact, that they rage, fume, bluster and lie when they’ve been caught doing it and when someone steps in to prevent them from doing it.

  • Ronlawhouston

    It is amazing how successful and repeatable this scam has been.  I guess no one wants to take the time to dig enough to get the real facts.  It was a very big deal here in Houston with the VA cemetery.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wesley.holland Wesley Holland

    I can’t find the original memo on the Walter Reed website, but FRC has a legit-seeming copy here: http://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF11L05.pdf 

    In the memo, it is not at all clear that the policy doesn’t apply to family visits – in fact, it seems like exactly the opposite.  I can certainly understand the uproar from religious folk at what would have amounted to government censorship of material brought by family members (and ostensibly requested by the patient, since the policy is clear that the patient defines ‘family’).

    That said, I believe from the Walter Reed response that they meant this to only apply to non-family visits.  When they issue the revised memo, I hope they don’t back down completely from the intended policy, which is to keep non-family from proselytizing to the vulnerable.

  • Annie

    Wow.  Gives a whole new meaning to the term “captive audience” when one tries to preach to someone confined to a hospital bed.

  • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

    Despite Torpy’s “gracious” reading of the policy, it specifically said “families are considered partners,” and qualified the status of “non-family” even under “partners in care,” so its clear that as written this policy applied to the families as well as anyone else.
    That’s why they’re rewriting it.
    Importantly, no one has claimed this policy was enforced against them.  That anyone thought it was a good idea to forbid religious items at all, never mind against family members, is amazing in an era of tolerance and religious freedom.
    Or is it?

    • http://www.christianfighterpilot.com/blog JD

      as written this policy applied to the families as well as anyone else.
      That’s why they’re rewriting it.
      Importantly, no one has claimed this policy was enforced against them.  That anyone thought it was a good idea to forbid religious items at all, never mind against family members, is amazing in an era of tolerance and religious freedom.
      Or is it?
      http://christianfighterpilot.com/blog/2011/12/06/walter-reed-rescinds-ban-on-bible/

  • Corey

    so basically, some Christians are upset they dont have the freedom to walk into a hospital and push their religion onto anyone and everyone. so, they say, as always, this is an attack on their religion. ive got to say, that is how the bible tells them to act. to expect and welcome persecution and the more they can stand the more their god loves them. seems like a rather twisted way to see the world, but it fits their behavior to a “t”.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

      Wait, if they’re supposed to expect, and even welcome, persecution, WHY ARE THEY BITCHING ABOUT IT?

    • Tbird57lover

      If one does not wish to read the Bible in Walter Reed, that is fine, but those who do wish to, let them.  It is interesting to me that atheists, ACLE et al who say there is no God, spend so much time and moneyt trying to do away with my faith.  If God doesn’t exist, then why are you in such a snit over it?

  • Anonymous

    Walter Reed’s  decision is on par with Military Policy. While I was deployed to Iraq from 2003-04 I asked a Chaplin (Orthodox Rabbi) about the process to conversion to Judaism. His response to me was he could not do conversions even if he wanted too because he could face punishment under the U.C.M.J. He said that it was a good thing that the rule was in place even if it was a hinderance to people actively seeking conversion because there were “certain individuals” that would make it their mission in life to see that there were no more Jews (or any other faith other than Christian for that matter) in the Military. It also stops Soldiers etc from being preyed upon while they are in a vulnerable state of being in a War Zone. And this happened under George Bush, so where was the outrage then by the Christans and Republicans? Check out …item “K” under Prohibited Activities…. “Proselytizing of any religion, faith or practice”.                                  http://www.tac.usace.army.mil/deploymentcenter/tac_docs/GO-1B%20Policy.pdf                                                                                                                                                 The same prohbition is listed in Item “J” under prohibited activities:                                     http://www.cemml.colostate.edu/cultural/09476/pdf/GeneralOrderGO-1A.pdf

  • real man

    It’s a shame that liberal extremist organizations like yours are terrorizing the US citizens with your anti religious hate.  If you were truly “atheists” then any religious content in the ceremony should just be meaningless to you.  However, the urges that motivate you and others like you to put websites like this is nothing more then pure, anti-religious, hatred.  Which doesn’t make you friendly atheists as you claim but aligns you closer to Satan worshipers.

    • http://twitter.com/BLAKEMACGA BLAKE MACINTYRE

      what you fear and what you choose to ignore defines you more than what you fantasize about… your attitude and behavior to “your neighbor” brings you closer to your Lord i’m sure… your post doesn’t surprise me though… your shadow knows nothing of Love and Tolerance… only judgement, contempt and hate…

  • paul monska

    Sadly, this is more a political move than a spiritual one.

  • Randy604

    Just saw Tony Perkins on Hardball MSNBC state emphatically that the prohibition had nothing to do with prosyletizing – preaching Christianity, but that in fact it prohibited anyone from bringing a bible into the hospital.  I’m glad to hear that he’s full of it.  Tony is usually more level-headed, at least so I thought. 

  • Red State Refugee

    Having read the full-text of the memo, I’m forced to concede that it is poorly written and – from an objective standpoint – violates the First Amendment establishment clause (…or prohibit the free exercise thereof….). Because I am an atheist and am required to base my views on evidence, I cannot in good conscience defend the original memo.

    THAT SAID, I have to wonder about the back story. WHY did Walter Reed feel compelled to include this prohibition in the visitor policy? (In fact, why did Walter Reed find it necessary to issue a revised policy?) Were proselytizers roaming the halls and preying on on vulnerable warriors? Were there objections from patients themselves? Knowing the answers to those questions will give us the real answers we need.

  • Wiser and smarter than Jason

    So I guess an anthiest has never said “O my god” to a close call to death or and accident, natural disaster or after sex…., if you say no I have’nt, your a lier and , GOD luck to ya ! 


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