Air Force Leaves Evangelism Decisions Up To Hotel Managers

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.

Scripture is no longer required at AF lodging

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.

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.

  • gonegirl

    Good decision; the nastiness coming from the Christian right will undoubtably be epic. 

    I once stayed at a hotel in West Virginia that had both a Gideon Bible and a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita (stamped as an official hotel copy).  It was the first time I’d ever seen a non-Christian religious text offered in a hotel room, and I was surprised that I was doing so in West Virginia.  Honestly, I thought it was kinda neat.

  • bp

    I don’t mind the bible in the hotel room. However, they better allow any religious group to have their text in the room as well. Personally, I think it would be a waste of money. If you’re religious enough to pick up a bible from the hotel room you probably just forgot your traveling bible(or whatever religious text you read) at home. As long as there’s a tv in the room, we know what people are going to choose to do with their time.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I wonder though. The managers are now in charge of the religious text in the hotel rooms, but will they stay managers if they opt out of keeping the christian bible in there?

  • Renshia

    Guests could keep in mind they always have an emergency source of toilet paper in the night stand. Tear out a few pages and crumple them up and their you go, ass wipe.

    • Majblaisdell

      It’s one thing to disagree, it’s another to be insulting.  You’ve crossed the line.

      • Renshia

        Hey I said it was only for emergencies. Not like I am encouraging it for daily use.
        Sheesh!!! Some people just don’t know a good idea when they hear one.

  • Stev84

    Having religious books in hotel rooms is completely ridiculous. If someone really wants to read them when they are traveling, they can easily bring their own copy.

    • JasonTorpy

      Or maybe there is a stash of books available at the desk with Bibles and Qu’rans and Fabio romance novels and Star Magazine and a Sudoku book… Assuming not bias in stocking (only Christian or no atheist materials allowed for example), then it should be ok.

  • http://andybreeden.com Andy Breeden

    Hotel guests who find Bibles in their rooms should call the front desk and ask questions like “My Bible has discrepancies among the gospel accounts of the resurrection. Could you send me a better Bible please?”

  • Mck9

    Decentralizing the Bible policy may just be an evasive maneuver.

    If you want to complain about the Bibles on First Amendment grounds, now you have to complain to each of hundreds of local managers, instead of to a central command.  However, a First Amendment violation is no less a violation for being local and decentralized.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      If the Bibles are placed in hotel rooms by the individual hotel managers by their own choice, then I don’t see how that is a violation of the First Amendment.  The First Amendment allows individuals to place religious materials on their own property. The requirement of the placement of religious materials by a government agency was the violation.

      • Mck9

         I interpreted the article to mean that AFSA owned and operated the hotels.  If the hoteliers are concessionaires operating on USAF premises, like (for example) a Starbucks franchise in the PBX, if there is such a thing, then I agree.

        • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

          Yeah, it’s not clear what the exact relationship is between the owner/managers of a hotel on a military base and the base command, or what amount of autonomy there is. I guess this is one example of clarifying that kind of thing. 

          • TSgt Eric

            The Air Force Inns are staffed and operated mainly by Airmen (with some civilian staff as well) and administratively fall under the Services Squadron. It’s no different than requiring a bible in every toolbox on the flight line.

      • JasonTorpy

        The hotel managers are either employees of the base or employees of concessionaires who hold government contracts to provide a government service. Either way, leaving Bibles is done in their official capacity and therefore it is tied up with the government. Praying on break or having a Bible on their desk might be ok, but ensuring Bibles are in every room and instructing inspectors and room cleaners to ensure they are always there is no ‘free exercise’, it’s an abuse of power to spread Christianity.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    “Air Force apparently will remove Bibles from on-base lodging rooms.”

    This is a typical tactic, to deliberately “misinterpret” a policy so that the outrageous straw man version is reported, and gets people who don’t usually check up on details into an uproar.

    So “Air Force removes requirement of Bibles in base hotels” becomes “Air force removes Bibles from base hotels.”  Similarly, “Public school staff are prohibited from leading students in prayer” becomes “Students are prohibited from praying.”  Cue the “how dare you’s” of righteous, martyred outrage.

    Generally, I think the originators of the misinterpretation know exactly what they’re doing, and then the bumpkins just assume it’s accurate.

  • Glasofruix

    I thought it was funny to put bookmarks and highlight the “funny” passages in hotel bibles when bored.


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