Report: Bible Controversy at Maxwell AFB

FoxNews Todd Starnes reports on a “Bible controversy” at Maxwell AFB that is, actually, many years old:

For more than a decade new military recruits at Maxwell Air Force Base – Gunter Annex in Alabama have received a Bible from Gideons International volunteers. But that tradition has come to an end after volunteers said they were told by the military that they would no longer be allowed to personally distribute the pocket-sized Bibles to recruits.

A MEPSCOM spokesman explained a little bit more:

Gaylan Johnson, is a public affairs officer for the Military Entrance Processing Command. He told me the Gideons’ side of the story is “not strictly true.”

“They can place their literature within our facility, but they are not allowed to stand there and talk with applicants or hand them (the Bibles) out.”

Unfortunately, this is the product of an old ACLU complaint — from 2007. As a result of the ACLU, the US military’s inprocessing facilities (MEPS) created a written policy (PDF) on “non-federal entities” being allowed at its MEPS facilities. At the time, a different MEPS spokesman said:

“We have not changed our policy whatsoever. What we did was just put it on paper,” [Dan Trew] said…

Under the orders, Trew told Stars and Stripes, Gideons are allowed to sit at exhibit tables only in common areas of the stations and wait for applicants and recruits to approach them, but not to proselytize, preach or otherwise reach out.

Either the spokesman was misinformed, or someone was very confused (confusion that continues to this day). The actual policy from 2008 says:

a. A NFE may…place secular or religious literature…for applicant use in a location inside the MEPS…

c. NFEs shall not be permitted to post or station a member within the premises of any MEPS…

It is entirely possible that some MEPS facilities continue doing business as they have for decades — and allow Gideons to distribute Bibles as they long have. Ultimately, however, thanks to the ACLU, the DOD has a policy in place that prevents Gideons from handing a Bible to incoming troops — though they can stock a display if they choose.

Starnes is still correct, however. It is a controversy — just not one people seem to care about anymore. If history has shown us anything, it is that it is easier to placate a critic than defend a process or procedure — regardless of its traditional or inherent virtue.

Unless Congress says otherwise, MEPS is free to make its policies. MEPS has done so.



  • Chaplains have plenty of Bibles available. Most chapels are way overstocked with Gideon and other Bibles. They are very available for military personnel. But, in my experience, only about 4-5% of military personnel go to any religious service at all (whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu ….).

    • Chaplains may have plenty of Bibles, but that has nothing to do with this — just as soldiers having plenty of access to food doesn’t mean the military discourages or bans sending trail mix and candy bars to US troops.