Walter Reed Rescinds Ban on Bible

Update: More than 20,000 people signed a petition in less than 24 hours to “help end the ban” on Bibles at Walter Reed.

A US Army officer “in disbelief” forwarded a Walter Reed National Military Medical Center memorandum regarding patient visitation to the Family Research Council.  The memorandum said:

f. No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.

The ban was so broadly written it would prevent even families from providing Bibles to their wounded family members, and it banned priests from bringing the eucharist or providing last rites.  Notably, while the policy banned all religious items, the Bible was the only religious text specifically mentioned.

The FRC circulated the memorandum at Capitol Hill, and Rep Steve King (R-Iowa) took to the House floor and “blasted” the policy:

Mr. Speaker, these military men and women who are recovering at Walter Reed and Bethesda have given their all for America…They’ve defended and taken an oath to the Constitution, and here they are. The people that come to visit them can’t bring a religious artifact? They can’t bring a Bible?

A spokesman said the policy has been rescinded (though there is yet to be an official statement saying so) and they

appreciate Congressman King bringing this to our attention. We don’t want our instructions to be ambiguous.

The problem is the policy wasn’t ambiguous.  It clearly restricted religious items from Walter Reed.  Walter Reed public affairs officer Sandy Dean said the policy was intended to “respect” the “religious and cultural practices of our patients.”  The proper way to “respect” patients’ practices is to let them and their families exercise their religious freedom.

The military is required to protect the religious liberty of US servicemembers and ensure their free exercise to the extent allowed by the mission.  There is no indication a mission need dictated this restriction on Bibles.  There is no conceivable reason a ban on Bibles is either permissible or Constitutional.

Who could possibly think a proactive policy banning religious items at a military medical facility was a good idea?  Tony Perkins’ Family Research Council says it’s just the latest indicator of a hostility toward Christianity in the US military (links original):

This is Obama’s military, where homosexuality is celebrated and Christianity is censored; where witches are financed and crosses are scorned; where bestiality is embraced and Bibles are banned; where same-sex “weddings” are encouraged but international charity is not.

After three years of ideological warfare, the administration’s intent is clear: to disarm the military of its biggest weapon. Faith.

Regardless of President Obama’s agenda, there is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that empowers the government to stop family members from giving Bibles or crosses to their loved ones.

(The ACLJ recently drew a similar conclusion, saying some groups are starting to complain there’s “too much religious liberty” in America.)  FoxNews reports Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention called on those responsible for the policy to be fired, saying it shows the “pseudo-tolerance of secularism.”

It is surprising to see a military policy so blatantly contravene religious liberty, particularly without some form of “provocation.”  While rescinding the policy is good, the fact the policy was even put in place is disconcerting, and it remains to be seen what the “revised” policy will be regarding Bibles at Walter Reed.

Think “religious freedom” critic Michael Weinstein will attack Walter Reed with alliterative vitriol or threaten them with a lawsuit over this ‘clear violation of religious liberty?’


  • Walter Reed was an Army Hospital, not Naval.

    It closed September 15, 2011

  • @Frank Adams
    In September, Walter Reed Army Medical Center closed and was replaced by the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. Not sure why you brought up the Navy.

  • Maybe because it was a Navy memo? Don’t you even read the things you link to, JD?

    And, I really don’t think anyone would have taken this no religious items rule in this memo as prohibiting things like a family member bringing a Bible to someone they’re visiting. Any reasonable person would assume that this rule was intended to apply to the other kinds of visitors listed in the memo, like people from organizations, celebrities, sports figures, etc. who might be visiting with the intent of proselytizing. They just need to rewrite it to make it less ambiguous regarding who it applies to.

  • @Chris Rodda

    because it was a Navy memo?

    That doesn’t answer the question of what that has to do with anything.

    Any reasonable person…

    This would likely be the first time the MRFF acceded to a “reasonable person” standard. Normally, a case like this not involving Christianity would elicit cries of unconstitutional and illegal conduct, regardless of how the rule could be interpreted. Your selective outrage is telling.

    visiting with the intent of proselytizing

    What governmental purpose is supported by such a regulation? Patients and staff can already decline to receive visitors or ask others to leave. Why single people out based on religion (Christianity specifically)? This regulation targets religion to a restrictive end; it doesn’t protect liberty.