Navy Bans Bibles after Atheist Complaint

Update: The Navy has reversed the decision of NEXCOM, saying it was made without consultation with Navy leadership.  The Bibles will be returned to the hotel rooms and will not be removed.  Retired Chaplain (Col) Ron Crews had called on the Navy to reverse the policy.  The Navy now joins the Air Force in having been attacked for its lodging facility Bibles — and, for the moment, withstood the attack.  Also at the Christian Post, OneNewsNow, the Washington Times, Religion News Service, the New American, and USA Today.

As first reported by the American Family Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with the US Navy because there were Gideon Bibles in the nightstands at Navy lodging facilities.

So the Navy decided to remove them.

“The current direction is to remove all religious material from Navy Lodge guest rooms,” read an email to a Navy chaplain from The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM).

Jason Torpy of the MAAF tried a few years ago to do the same thing with the Air Force, though he succeeded only in changing a checklist. Turns out the Bibles are still present in many US Air Force lodging facilities, and the Air Force does not have a policy prohibiting them.

As has been said about similar issues in the past, nothing about the practice of the Christian faith requires a Bible in a nightstand of a hotel. But to see an arm of the US government proactively remove Bibles for no other reason than someone complained does, as Ron Crews said, seem like an attack specifically on Christianity.

“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.”

To be fair to Chaplain Crews’ statement, it does appear Christianity is rapidly losing the tolerance culture war in the military. No policy or law requires the Bibles to be removed, so why not let them stay? Why make such a dramatic and controversial change in response to an external complaint?

Why publicly agree with atheists that Bibles in a hotel room violate the US Constitution?

One of the anonymous complainants went so far as to say he

“never saw a Book of Mormon or Koran” in any Navy-run lodge

That’s an interesting and irrelevant statement. If there’s an organization that has attempted to place Korans in Lodges and they’ve been denied, that’s relevant. It is not the Navy’s responsibility to beg other religions to provide materials. This is a twisting of the doctrine that a forum open to multiple faiths is Constitutionally acceptable. The doctrine has been reversed to say the government is responsible for filling that forum. This was the same twisted logic used to remove a Nativity from an Air Force base. While the forum was open to all, only Christians showed up — so the entire display was removed. It seems Christians now need to provide representation for others in order to represent themselves.

In the end, it is likely that many government organizations like NEXCOM capitulate to these “militant” atheists simply because they’re the loudest voice in the room. After all, what group will now file a lawsuit claiming NEXCOM’s decision violated the Constitution? Not only is that out of character with most Christian organizations, they’d also likely lose that lawsuit. Of course, atheists would have lost theirs, too, but NEXCOM capitulated nonetheless. Whether that’s because they figured it was “easier” to give in or because they actually agreed with the atheists, we may never know.

Since the Navy created a policy to remove Bibles from lodging facilities only because someone complained — not because it was actually required — the Navy risks contributing to the perception that the US military is hostile to religion. After all, they essentially agreed with the FRFF, who claimed victory and then said of the Bible:

“We shouldn’t have to pay high prices to be proselytized in the privacy of our own hotel or motel room. We shouldn’t have to open our bedside table to find in it a so-called ‘holy book’ which glorifies violence and discrimination against nonbelievers, women, gays and children,” said FFRF Co-President Dan Barker.

That’s the “tolerance” and respect for diversity with which the Navy is now associated.

Had the Navy responded to the atheists that it neither required nor banned religious texts from rooms, it would have communicated a policy of neutrality without creating the perception it was caving to “militant” atheists who desire not religious equality, but removing religion from the public square.  Interestingly, the DoD just made that same argument about MEPS in the face of another atheist complaint, so its unclear why the Navy didn’t follow suit.

The general response of the government recently seems to have largely agreed with critics of religious liberty: Freedom of religion is fine in the United States — so long as you keep it to yourself.

This story has been widely covered at Charisma News, CBN News, Christian News Network, One News Now (twice), the Religion News Service, and The Washington Post.



    • In my reply I said the USAF will instruct members not to overtly practice sectarian religious beliefs. I meant the US Government will instruct all branches as to that decision.

  • Whether intended or unintended, the placement of Gideon supplied Bibles in lodgings run by the US Navy and their subsequent removal after a complaint was filed, created quite a stir.

    The basis for the complaint centered on the Bible being an instrument of sectarian worship and their placement in a military facility which is religion neutral, banned by the US Constitution and USAF Instruction.

    Now the Bibles may be reinstated causing even further concerns.

    The U.S. Armed Forces, whose members belong to a number of major and minor religions have experienced a number of religious issues including coercive Christian proselytizing by members of rank and position.

    Hopefully those who bring their religious beliefs to their duty and attempt to apply them will either be convinced not to do so or actively prohibited therefrom.