Two concerned service members separately contacted FFRF earlier this year to report finding Christian bibles in every Navy-operated hotel room in which they had stayed during decades of service. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is the country’s largest association of atheists and agnostics, with over 21,000 members nationwide. FFRF works to defend the constitutional principle of separation between the government and religion and to represent the views of nonbelievers.
Because over 24% of FFRF’s members are active duty military or veterans — and because over 23% of military personnel identify as atheists, agnostics, or have no religious affiliation — FFRF sent a letter on March 12, 2014 to the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM). FFRF noted that Navy-run lodges are showing favoritism to Christianity over all other religions and non-religion by placing bibles in hotel rooms.
On June 19, 2014, NEXCOM issued a directive stating that the “Navy Lodge General Manager should advise the Installation Commanding Officer of our intention to work through the chaplain’s office to determine what installation policy is and the method to remove religious material currently in guest rooms.” The directive indicated that the action “is to be completed by 1 September 2014.”
”We’re pleased that NEXCOM has taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment requires the government not to play favorites when it comes to religious or nonreligious beliefs. By removing bibles from Navy-run lodges, the Navy has taken a step to ensure that it is not sending the impermissible message that Christians are favored over guests with other religious beliefs or over those guests with no religion,” noted FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover, who worked on the violation.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has long advocated that nonreligious consumers ask for “bible-free rooms” at private motels and hotels as a consumer request.
“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. While private hotels may choose to succumb to the lobbying of The Gideon Society, the U.S. government has an obligation to ensure secular accommodations that do not give the appearance of governmental endorsement of religion, Barker added.
Please voice your support for the Navy’s decision, to counter action alerts by the Christian Right against this decision:
Be sure to identify any relationship you may have to the Navy or military. Use your own words or feel free to copy any part of the the message text below:
Dear Director Bockelman,
[I am an active member/veteran of the U.S. military / a family member of a U.S. military service member and] I am writing to thank you for your correct decision to remove Christian bibles from all Navy Lodge guest rooms. As an atheist/nonbeliever, I’m part of the one in five U.S. adult citizens who is nonreligious — the fastest growing segment of the population by religious identification. I’m deeply offended when I go into a hotel room and find a bible there, which sends a message that I need to be converted or am somehow the “wrong” religion. Today nonbelievers make up about a quarter of active military personnel. So I know how “atheists in foxholes” would feel in encountering someone else’s “holy book” in what should be secular military accommodations. Military service is, in part, about defending the secular constitutional principles on which this country was founded. The separation between government and religion is one of those key principles that has allowed our country to thrive. Thank you for ensuring secular accommodations, which guarantees that some military personnel are not made to feel like “outsiders” because they are non-Christians or non-believers. Thank you for showing me that the Navy is willing to stand by that principle, not because it is a politically popular thing to do, but because it is the only appropriate course of action.