Foundation Protests Bibles On Alaska Ferries (March 1995)

A decision to reinstate Gideon bibles in staterooms on the public-funded Alaska ferry system by Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles was criticized in February by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

In an attempt to change state policy, the Foundation asked the state to place copies of a book highlighting the many unsavory biblical passages on the ferries. The director of the Alaska Marine Highway System had told media he would consider placing books for other groups.

The Foundation submitted a copy of The X-Rated Book: Sex & Obscenity In The Bible by Foundation member J. Ashleigh Burke.

In a letter to Gary Hayden, director of the highway system, the Foundation wrote: “Many people are not aware of the extent of sex and obscenity in the bible and since the state of Alaska is now in the bible-promoting business, it would serve public interest to educate citizens about this aspect of the bible.

“You cannot censor this book, which simply excerpts passages from the bible, if you continue to distribute the bible in its entirety.”

Nevertheless, that is what the state of Alaska plans to do. In a letter dated February 8, 1995, Hayden returned the X-Rated Book and various nontracts critical of the bible, with this note:

“We have determined that it is not in the best interest of the state to allow additional materials to be placed in private staterooms. Accordingly, your request is denied. We are returning your material.”

“This means,” noted Foundation president Anne Gaylor, “that the State of Alaska is on record saying that it is in the ‘best interests of the state’ to distribute Christian bibles. This is literally using the machinery of the state to promote and endorse Christianity!”

In a separate letter of complaint to Gov. Knowles, the Foundation called the Gideon Society “the number one violator of state/church separation in our schools,” citing Supreme Court precedent forbidding distribution of Gideon bibles through public schools.

“The State of Alaska is now in alliance with this Christian group to promote its particular religious teachings to a captive audience, providing the Gideons with a unique access.” This not only violates the First Amendment, but Art. XX, 1 of the Alaska State Constitution, which provides that “no inhabitant of this State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship, or lack of the same.”

“This is mind molestation, compliments of the Knowles Administration,” the Foundation charged. “Citizens should not have to fend off bibles and bible fanatics to use public ferry transportation.”

The Foundation’s complaint has been reported by Associated Press, USA Today and Alaskan dailies.

Gideon bibles were removed from staterooms aboard the state-owned and run ferry system in December, following complaints by Rep. David Finkelstein and Sen. Al Adams. Legislative attorney George Utermohle issued a 6-page memo in December concluding that the presence of bibles on the ferries was a state/church violation, “promoting the religious values of the Gideons to the disadvantage of other Christian sects, nonChristians and nonbelievers.”

However, following a picket this year staged by a dozen religionists, the Governor reinstated the bibles. Among the signs carried by Gideon supporters, according to the Daily News: “In God We Trust: Not David Finkelstein” (carried by Bob Lochner, who unsuccessfully ran for Finkelstein’s seat last November); “Queer thinking in government distorts the Constitution,” and “Things I’ll never give up: My life, Bible and guns.”

Gov. Tony Knowles can be reached at PO Box 110001, Juneau AK 99811.

Freedom From Religion Foundation