Stop Evangelizing Captive Audience (September 1994)

The Foundation, in echoes of its 1989 campaign asking for the courtesy of “bible-free rooms” for nonreligious guests from the nation’s hotel and motel industry, has asked Days Inn of America to drop its “Chaplain on Call” policy and the Hammond-Holiday Inns to stop placing prayer cards in rooms.

The Foundation recently received a complaint from a paying guest of Days Inn, who found not only a Gideon Bible placed prominently in her rented room in South Carolina, but a “Chaplain on Call” card directing her to seek spiritual guidance from a local Baptist minister.

“She, like at least 20 million other Americans, is not religious, is offended by Christian dogma and teachings, and by the assumption of Days Inn that she is in need of religious guidance,” the Foundation wrote John Russell, President of the New Jersey-based Days Inn of America.

“Chaplains on Call is bound to offend not only freethinkers, but customers who belong to denominations other than those of chaplains.” Days Inn should be concerned about legal liability should it be responsible for placing its stamp of approval upon a criminal or unscrupulous minister, wrote Foundation spokesperson Annie Laurie Gaylor.

She said it is germane that very few ministers possess any true counseling credentials, and warned that chaplains could do more harm than good, especially if a fundamentalist minister or a Catholic priest were consulted by a person with AIDS, a battered wife, an incest victim, a gay person or a pregnant teenager.

“It would be far more practical and helpful for each establishment to compile a list of local, accredited numbers,” such as battered woman’s shelters and mental health hotlines, Gaylor added.

“It is not nice to evangelize a captive audience,” Gaylor wrote. “Many atheists and agnostics are offended to be charged high fees to stay in hotels and motels, only to have religion thrust upon them.”

Russell told Associated Press in New Jersey that the policy of referring customers to local ministers through “Chaplain on Call” cards started with the late Days Inn founder, and that he would not recommend any changes to the corporation’s franchises.

The Associated Press reports that Hospitality Franchise System, the franchiser of 1,507 Days Inns, is the largest hotel franchiser in the country. It has 4,000 properties, including Ramada, Howard Johnson, Super 8 and Park Inn hotels.

In a similar vein, the Foundation also protested prayer cards placed in Hammonds-Holiday Inn rooms. The John Q. Hammonds corporation, based in Springfield, Missouri, owns 30 Holiday Inns. A Foundation member staying in the Springfield Holiday Inn found an obsequious prayer card in his room this summer. The prayer card states, in part: “We hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof.” A manager confirmed they were “instructed to place prayer cards in every room.”

In a letter to David Jones, President, Gaylor wrote “in the spirit of consumer feedback, since hotels are always soliciting suggestions,” pointing out it would be possible to give formal good wishes in a secular fashion. “Many atheists and agnostics are dismayed to have religion thrust upon them–they seek a vacation from mindless proselytizing when on vacation. Most freethinkers agree that ‘Nothing fails like prayer,’ that the natural laws of the universe cannot be suspended by wishful thinking, nor would a natural being, if one existed, busy itself with granting peace and curing insomnia to the guests of a particular hotel chain.”

The Foundation’s “bible-free” room consumer campaign has been revived in the press due to a letter from the Gideon Society threatening legal action, contending that the Foundation does not have a First Amendment right to sell bible warning labels.

CODESH reports, by the way, that Gideon is getting some competition from Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, who has distributed more than 12,500 copies so far of a poetry anthology to various chains, encouraging clientele to take the book with them. According to the report, the anthology contains entries from such nonChristian poets as Walt Whitman and Robert Frost.

Freedom From Religion Foundation