Air Force May Remove Bibles from Military Hotel Rooms
When the Air Force directs its members to travel on official business, it attempts to provide them lodging facilities “similar to US mid-level, limited service commercial hotels” even on Air Force bases spread around the globe. As of October 1, 2012, those attempts will no longer include the traditional Bible in the nightstand.
According to atheist Jason Torpy, his demands have resulted in the Air Force changing its policies on the placement of Bibles in Air Force billeting facilities around the world.
After inquiries from the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers and a legal review, Air Force Services Operations [sic] has promised to end their Bible requirement…
Air Force counsel has recognized that…Air Force lodging managers are Constitutionally-bound to avoid entanglement with religion. Including a Bible in every room is a privilege for Christianity.
That isn’t exactly what the Air Force Services Agency said:
The Air Force Services Agency concluded there is no requirement to have ‘Is a Bible provided?’ in the lodging checklist. The checklist will be changed during the annual checklist update in September 2012 and will be in effect for FY13…
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.
From Torpy’s perspective, removing the Bible from the checklist will have the effect of removing the Bible from the rooms, and he may be correct, despite the Air Force’s self-described cogitation on the issue. The Bibles may be removed because they are not on the checklist, or they may simply fail to be replaced as they are lost by attrition. Since the policy change does not prohibit the presence of Bibles, perhaps the chaplaincy can step in and make amends.
Still, Torpy may be right — there may be a Constitutional issue. After all, the presence of Bibles in Air Force billeting rooms explicitly supports the stated, non-religious intent of providing traveling Airmen an experience similar to commercial hotels. To reverse that decision in response to an external atheist’s complaint — thereby changing policy based solely on religion — may engender just such a Constitutional issue.
In addition, this marks at least the fourth time in just the last few months the Air Force has asked “how high?” when political activists have demanded it “jump!” with regard to its treatment of the Christian faith. A decision — or series of decisions — that explicitly and negatively target religious faith, brought about by the complaints of offended observers, may be just such a Constitutional issue.
In the end, this isn’t about Christianity or even the Bible. The cause of Christ does not depend upon the presence of Bibles in military nightstands, nor is it hampered by the lack of them. There is no Constitutional requirement for the US military to provide Bibles in lodging facilities, nor is there such a requirement they remove them.
What it is about is how external third parties, and the Air Force, react.
To his credit, Jason Torpy didn’t write a scathing letter to the Secretary of the Air Force, demanding immediate action while making legal threats and cc’ing the President of the United States. He also didn’t go straight to MSNBC or creative alliterative appellations or pithy insults to characterize men and women of faith in the US military. He eschewed the style of Michael Weinstein, then, but his aim seems to be largely the same.
Torpy and his one-man-band MAAF have managed to become vicariously offended over anything remotely related to religion in the US military — from crosses he cannot see except on the internet, to the Latin word for “god” — demonstrating his shrinking violet sensibilities and the disdain with which he holds the constitutional protection of religious freedom.