Protests Continue Over Bibles On Ferries (May 1995)

When he learned about the Foundation’s complaint over the presence of Gideon bibles on the Alaska Ferry System, which depart from Bellingham, Washington, longtime Washington Foundation member Dr. Howard McGaw gamely agreed to do something about it.

On “Good Friday,” April 14, Howard, 84, a retired professor from Western Washington University, and a few supporters took the case for state/church separation directly to ferry passengers boarding at the Bellingham Cruise Terminal. Howard, who is a life member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Foundation members Joe Randell, George Guilmet, Pat and Don Burnet and Karen Bloomquist all wore “Keep State & Church Separate: Religion Is Divisive” Foundation buttons, and handed out a Foundation flyer about the controversy (see copy below).

The leafletting received prominent coverage in the Bellingham Herald, also resulting in an interview of Howard by a local TV station.

“The state ferry system, by inviting the Gideons to put the bibles on the boats, is actively discriminating against nonChristian and nonreligious people,” Howard told the Bellingham Herald.

Reporter Kevin Perron of the Herald noted ironically that one passenger boarding that afternoon was a member of a “biker-church” planning to pass out his own bibles.

The ferry leafletting is the latest attempt by the Foundation to persuade the State of Alaska to stop promoting religion. Following its initial complaints, the Foundation office recently sent Gov. Tony Knowles samples of its “bible warning labels” showing the inappropriateness of mixing state and bible.

Wrote Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor to Gov. Knowles: “Fanatics who can’t last the night without their bibles take precautions to travel with their own. The rest of us have the right to be free from state-sponsored and endorsed evangelizing when we are traveling on public transportation.”

Attorney Jeffrey J. Kassel on behalf of the Foundation wrote Knowles to protest the state’s determination that placing Foundation materials in the private staterooms along with Gideon Bibles “is not in the best interest of the state.”

Wrote Kassel:

“The inescapable conclusion to be drawn from that statement is that the Alaska Highway System has decided that providing stateroom occupants on state ferries with Gideon Bibles–and only Gideon Bibles–is ‘in the best interests of the state.’ This forthright endorsement of the Christian faith by the State of Alaska is unconstitutional under any conceivable interpretation of the Establishment Clause.”

Added Kassel: “The State of Alaska has no business promoting religious beliefs.” No response to Kassel’s March letter has been received from the Governor’s office to date.

Gov. Tony Knowles can be reached at State of Alaska, Post Office Box 110001, Juneau AK 99811.

Freedom From Religion Foundation