In March, attorneys from the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter to the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) claiming that two “concerned service members” had independently contacted FFRF to complain that “every Navy lodging room that they have stayed in during decades of service has contained a Bible” — most of them provided by the Christian group Gideons International, which appears to be a particular target of the FFRF.
The FFRF was deeply worried, as noted in the letter, that materials from other faiths were “rarely” seen in the Navy 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,” wrote troubled FFRF staff attorney Andrew Seidel with a note of righteous concern.
Insisting that under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, “a government entity cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion,” Seidel charged that the Navy's longtime tradition of allowing Bibles in its guest rooms “amounts to a government endorsement of that religious text. Including Bibles sends the message to non-Christian ... guests that they should read the Bible.... The military should not promote certain religious beliefs by placing Bibles in guest rooms.”
Arguing that “government-run entities have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” Seidel and the FFRF demanded that the Navy remove the offensive Bibles from its guest rooms, and “provide us with a written response outlining the actions that your office is taking to remedy this constitutional violation.”
In June, NEXCOM responded to the demand with a directive that Bibles were to be removed from all Navy guest rooms until further review of Navy policy on religious materials. “The Navy Lodge General Manager should advise the Installation Commanding Officer of our intention to work through the chaplain’s office to determine what [the] installation policy is,” read the directive, “and the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms.” According to the order, all Bibles currently in Navy guest rooms were to be removed by September 1.
The directive does not say that Bibles will be prohibited from rooms in the future, but that in the future the commanding officer of a naval base will determine, “in accordance with personnel readiness and military regulations, whether [religious materials] will be accepted and how they will be handled and distributed.”
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