After Atheists Blow the Whistle, U.S. Navy Says Bibles Must Be Removed from Base Hotel Rooms

If you visit a hotel in the United State, odds are you’ll find a Bible in the room (donated by Gideons International). There’s not much you can do about that. The hotels are privately owned and they have every right to do that, just as the Marriott chain (owned by Mormons) can also place a Book of Mormon in the nightstand.

But the U.S. Navy doesn’t have that right. They are not supposed to be in the business of endorsing religion. Yet the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) which runs more than 40 Navy Lodge hotels across the world also places those Bibles in rooms.

Back in March, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to the Navy about that problem:

It is our understanding that guest rooms in all hotels run by the Navy Exchange Service Command contain bibles. Two concerned service members, one active duty and one retired, separately contacted FFRF to report that every Navy lodging room that they have stayed in during decades of service has contained a bible. In many cases, it appears that the evangelical group Gideons International provided the bibles. We are informed that other religious or nonreligious books are rarely in guest rooms. One complainant noted that he “never saw a Book of Mormon or Koran” in any Navy-run lodge and that he had “been in varied Navy Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQs) with Bibles.”

FFRF suggested that guests could either bring their own bibles or that there could be an on-site library with religion and non-religious literature available to everyone — but having bibles in every room by default was illegal.

In response, Navy officials proposed a solution: They would defer to the judgment of the Chaplain’s Office at individual military installations. (Hmm… I wonder how that would turn out.) FFRF rejected that proposal — “This is not an issue that can be resolved by chaplains; it is an issue for lawyers” — and reiterated the legal reasons the bibles needed to go.

FFRF added that if the Navy had an open-door policy toward religious materials, they had some atheist-themed literature they wished to donate.

Maybe that did the trick.

Michael D. Rigg, the Senior Assistant Counsel for NEXCOM, wrote back to FFRF in June explaining that there was no command from higher up to have bibles in every room. It was traditionally a local decision and the Navy just never stopped them. But they would soon issue directives to remove the bibles from the rooms (and coordinate with the chaplains to do it in a respectful way).

Indeed, a letter sent by Navy officials gave a September 1 deadline for the removal of those bibles.

As expected, conservative groups are now freaking out as if this is somehow an anti-Christian policy. The American Family Association is urging its supporters to contact Navy officials to pressure them into changing their mind.

I’m sure Fox News’ Todd Starnes is hunched over a computer right now writing about how this policy will mean the destruction of America.

But it was the right call. Just because a bible in a hotel room is common doesn’t mean it’s always legal. The Navy, as an arm of the government, has no business promoting Christianity above other faiths or no faith. And no one is preventing people who stay in those hotels from bringing their own bibles or picking one up from an in-hotel library with any number of religious texts.

Equality of religious belief, of course, goes against everything those Christian groups stand for. They want superiority. Nothing else will do.

***Update***: Starnes has written an article in which he quotes someone who wrongly thinks Christians are having their rights taken away:

Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, blasted the Navy for removing the Bibles.

“This is just one more assault by military leaders against anything Christian,” Crews told me. “It’s getting tiresome to see senior military leaders cave in to those who appear to be offended by Christians, by Christian symbols and now by the Bible itself.”

Crews said there’s nothing wrong with allowing the Gideons to place Bibles in Navy lodges — at no cost to the Navy.

“Our military service men and women have every right to look at literature in hotel rooms — including the Scriptures,” he said.

They still have that right. So… there should be no problem.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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