The Air Force Services Agency (AFSA), which, among other things, manages hotels on Air Force bases, has removed a requirement to place Bibles in hotels. Now, it’s up to the managers to decide which religion, if any, they wish to promote.
The Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers (my main job, see bio), reported the following:
Air Force to remove requirement for hotel Bibles
In early February, a cockpit atheist in Kadena Airbase in Japan contacted MAAF to ask why there was a Bible posted in Air Force lodging. Because the Air Force is a government agency, there should be neutrality toward religion rather than a special privilege for Christianity. After inquiries from the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers and a legal review, Air Force Services (Agency) Operations has promised to end their Bible requirement.
That report was picked up by the Warner Robins Patriot in a recent article: “Air Force apparently will remove Bibles from on-base lodging rooms.” In a lightning-fast follow-up story, the Patriot reported, “Air Force spokesman takes strong exception to Patriot story on Bibles.” I doubt there was any spin on that bit of outrage… I, for one, was very careful to represent what the Agency promised MAAF, which was simply to remove the Bible requirement.
The legal fact here is that Air Force lodging managers now have the decision of whether 1) to provide for a Bible in every hotel room or 2) to go about their business without making special privileges and concessions for Christianity.
It’s certainly not high on the MAAF priority list to go around pulling Bibles out of hotel rooms, but I would hope it’s not high on the Air Force priority list to ensure that every visitor to an Air Force lodging facility has quick access to the word of Jesus Christ. It seems to go outside the bounds of government neutrality toward religion.
An Air Force Services Agency spokesperson told the Patriot:
“The Air Force has not directed the removal of Bibles from Air Force Inns’ lodging rooms at this time. We continue to review the situation and weigh our multiple First Amendment responsibilities and obligations… The AFSA spokesman underscored that Bibles are placed in the rooms by The Gideons and not by the Air Force.” Asked how Air Force innkeepers should react to removal of the checklist reference to Bibles, Dickerson declined to speculate.
In their defense, they probably have a mountain of backlash from Christian Nation for making the appropriate decision. The AFSA did the right thing in removing the requirement and letting the situation play itself out. It’d be best if those Bibles were shipped back to the Gideons for their use, but removing the requirement is a step in the right direction. It is not however, the end of the story. That is why this has become contentious — what is the next step?
The Air Force position (which is no different than what MAAF has reported) is that the Gideons folks can come onto base, put Bibles in every Air Force hotel room, and have Bibles available for every guest who arrives at an Air Force facility. The only thing that has changed is that, in the past, that situation was required by the official inspection checklist. Now, it is simply allowed to happen if the lodging manager chooses to lay out a red carpet for Christianity.
Maybe the Air Force will open its doors to placing of the Koran in every room. Or maybe they would welcome some materials from The Twelve Tribes or Unification Church.
Maybe atheists should participate? If the Gideons are given free and unfettered access to place Bibles in hotel rooms (and not have them tossed out like other items patrons might leave behind), should we drop by to place The God Delusion or Humanism as the Next Step or A Universe From Nothing at Air Force lodging facilities? We atheists generally don’t get into proselytism, but if Air Force lodging drawers are now available for anyone who drops by, maybe we should participate. We’ll just assume that lodging managers will be as accommodating of atheist literature as they are for Christian literature. It’s probably better, though, if the Air Force sticks to lodging rather than religion by finding those Bibles a good home in the base chapel or back with the Gideons.