Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions

The Bibles are back: Navy lodges scuttle removal plan

Lt. Cmdr. Jose Arana, maintenance officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9, stands at attention during a change of command ceremony in the squadron's hangar at a Naval station.

(RNS) The Gideon Bibles are going back in the Navy’s nightstand drawers.

Lt. Cmdr. Jose Arana, maintenance officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9, stands at attention during a change of command ceremony in the squadron's hangar at a Naval station.

Photo courtesy of Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Timothy Walter/U.S. Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lt. Cmdr. Jose Arana, maintenance officer for Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 9, stands at attention during a change of command ceremony in the squadron’s hangar at a Naval station.

In June, the U.S. Navy ordered housekeepers at thousands of Navy-owned guest lodges near U.S. and international bases to remove the Bibles and any other “religious materials” from their rooms. Scriptures would remain available on request.

But public outcry, prompted this week by a social media alert from the American Family Association and protests by the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, led the brass to reverse course Friday (Aug. 15).

Now, the Navy’s “religious accommodation policies with regard to the placement of religious materials are under review,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes, the daily military newspaper. Meanwhile, the Bibles (New Testament and Psalms but no Hebrew Bible) will be tucked back into nightstand drawers.

AFA President Tim Wildmon rejoiced on the association’s web site: “This is great news!”

A letter from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation prompted the original order to remove the Bibles. The atheists proposed that the Navy offer Bibles and other texts — including an atheist treatise, “The Born Again Skeptic’s Guide to the Bible” — on request at lodge front desks.

“The bottom line is that the Navy’s preferential treatment of Bibles … shows an unconstitutional preference for Christianity over all other religions and over nonreligion,” Sam Grover, the atheist group’s staff lawyer, told Religion News Service Friday (Aug. 15).  “We are confident that ultimately the Navy will revise its policy to conform with the requirements of the Constitution, which each Navy service member has sworn an oath to uphold and defend.” 

FFRF is not only pressing the Navy for change. Grover said the group has sent a similar letter to the Air Force, which removed the Bibles from its lodges in 2012 and returned them after a similar outcry.


About the author

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman specializes in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics. She also writes frequently on biomedical ethics and end-of-life-issues


Click here to post a comment

  • “Gaylor hags told to mind their own business.”

    Because the government doesn’t recognize anyone but Christians!
    [What you wanted to say 🙂 ]

  • Good.

    Further, lets put it to the test.

    I say stuff the top drawer full of religious books from all major and minor faiths. Pack it until it can’t hold anymore. Include random mystic stuff, and add a plate of flying spaghetti too. The second drawer can be left empty to symbolize atheism.

    At each room cleaning, take note of what books are on the top of the pile and if thr empty drawer has been opened more than once.

  • Wonderful news! This is a Christian nation with a Christian military! Any guests who don’t like a Bible in their room should be formaly investigated.

  • The Supreme Court is now pretty bad on establishment clause issues. No matter what dumb excuse they came up with, Scalia & Co. would agree.

  • Fair is fair. Inclusion is the only way to keep a religious display on government property and not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. Of course its also a good argument for not having the Bibles there.

  • Check the decision in Salazar v. Buono. If a gigantic cross doesn’t violate the establishment clause, why would Bibles? Kennedy would argue that the Bible is just a book that anyone can draw important lessons from.

  • SCOTUS punted on that one somewhat and remanded it to the lower court. There was also some technical shenanigans with that one concerning the land where the cross was. Kennedy two-step avoidance.

    “Because my conclusion rests primarily upon the law of injunctions, because that law is fairly clear, and because we cannot properly reach beyond that law to consider the underlying Establishment Clause and standing questions, I can find no federal question of general significance inthis case. I believe”

  • “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”
    No law means no law. It means the President has no authority in such matters. This means the Navy has no authority in these matters. Just because laws get ignored or broken, does not mean that they do not apply. That is why we have a judiciary.
    See you in court.

  • Bible complainers who think the U.S. is a ‘Christian Nation’ should go to the Govt. Website of the VA cemeteries . The VA lists 60 different ‘Belief Emblems’ that can be placed on the headstone or marker of a deceased veteran in a Veteran Cemetery. These include: the Buddhist Wheel of Righteousness, the Star of David, the Unitarian Church emblem, the Aaronic Order emblem, the Mormon Angel with Trumpet, the emblem of the Native American Church of North America, the Bahai emblem, the Atheist emblem, a Muslim Crescent and Star, the emblem of the Konko Kyo Faith, for Sufism Reoriented, for the Tenrikyo Church, the Humanist emblem, the Izumo emblem, the Sikh emblem, the Wicca Pentacle, the Farohar emblem, a Medicine Wheel, and many different styles of crosses (Celtic, Greek, Presbyterian, Russian Orthodox etc). Perhaps the religious literature in these motel rooms should include that of all these faiths!!




  • Frank,
    We Muslims will be so happy to have two Qurans next to each Bible in those Navy drawers!
    Praise be to Allah – two drawers of Qurans for every Bible….
    You must allow it or we shall sue your Navy.

    Thank You Frank for understanding religion and giving us Muslims a chance to argue for our Caliphate to move into the US Armed services!

  • The Navy endorses CHRISTIANITY? I did not know that.

    The constant infection of religious nonsense into our Government MUST stop!
    It is illegal.

    I am increasing my donations to FFRF, American Atheists and the American Civil Liberties Union. This outrage must stop!

  • I wish religious people
    would read what other religious people
    are writing.

    Maybe you would wake up to the (Jesus is Lord) monster you have created!

  • Having spent considerable time AGAIN consulting the writings of some of the chief founding fathers, I remain convinced of the historical/non-revisionist view of their attitude regarding religion. Though I concede many of them were not evangelicals, the record shows they were sympathetic to both the bible and Christian moral precepts. Washington’s orders as commanding general of the revolutionary army reveal clearly what he thought of homosexuality, an opinion held by the majority of people at the time (but I digress). To the degree that the founding fathers were religious, i.e. Christians, but not evangelical, and to the degree that they were ‘deists’; which does not necessarily mean they viewed God as an indifferent watchmaker, they respected the religion they knew which was primarily Christianity, and would be both puzzled and appalled by this controversy. The Navy has legitimately reversed itself, because a loud enough cry from The PEOPLE , who in the final analysis are the GOVERNMENT, have required it of them. Amen. Praise God, Thank you.

  • That was a big SFW if ever there was one. Of course it begs the question as to how generally you definitely”Christian precepts”. Sectarian differences were far more pronounced back then and of greater cultural weight than they are now. It is not enough to note sympathy with Christianity in general, you would have to note which type they adhered to, if any.

    As for the navy, they are clearly violating the constitution they swore to uphold. We are not a Christian nation nor one where Christianity holds special privilege over all other faiths. You are still resorting to the stupid, “might makes right” argument. That no other faiths besides christianity are recognized by government.

  • I have a suspicion that the Bibles are probably Gideon Bibles–bought and put there by the Gideons. As long as other religious materials provided by other religious organizations get the same treatment—that oh-so-in-your-face drawer of the nightstand—I think that would be fair. (I have stayed in a hotel that offered Mormon scripture actually. I would imagine it was provided by an organization similar to The Gideons.)

    Trouble is, people don’t want *equal* treatment. That would take a lot more effort and dollars. They want special treatment: the front desk needs to become a lending library because they aren’t interested in the expense and effort it would take for their literature to be treated equally.

    I also don’t think a religious text in a nightstand violates the establishment clause. If that were the case, having chaplains of any form in the military would be a violation. Recognizing that people have religious belief is very different from establishing that belief as law of the land. There’s no doubt this country has issues in that regard, but I don’t think this issue is one of them.

  • Note to Christians: The First Amendment does not say, “The right of Christians to push their religion on anyone and everyone shall not be abridged.” Just thought I’d clear that up for you.

  • You don’t want to be an American, feel free to leave. You obviously don’t value the nation very much,

  • You are incorrect. There is a big distinction between chaplains and these bibles. Chaplains are there for the benefit of the ranks. People voluntarily chose to see one. Chaplains are not there to serve a given faith as part of their duty, but to serve the faith of those who come to them. A chaplain is expected to play roles for several religion’s rites if necessary.

    The Bibles are not there at the request of those using the lodges. Nobody staying there requested them there. They are there to further a purely sectarian Christian religious belief. They are there involuntarily as part of the Gideons’ favored mode of proselytizing.

    The key to understanding religious freedom is to acknowledge religious belief means not just Christianity, but all faiths. When one faith is favored, the rest are diminished. By giving the impression the Navy favors Christianity with its involuntary display of Christian literature, it establishes the faith by the government. It violates the first amendment.

  • Interesting since the bible got into the publics hands through the printing press, Christianity has grown exponentially.

    Yes more bible please.

  • So feel free to waste more of your time and money to try and stop something that cannot be stopped.

  • yes, because if any books Western culture has produced have taught violence and hatred of those we don’t agree with, it’s the pre-Prophetic books of the bible. Between the blood-thirsty god, judges and kings, we have the perfect justification for genocide of those whom we don’t agree with. Perfect for the christian armies of the christian USA!

  • readers’ comments in this thread braying about what a great thing it is to force their religion on everyone else prove what a failure public education has become in this country. Shocking how poorly understood our Constitutional tradition is.

  • We used to cut rolling papers for marijuana cigarettes out of the pages. Nice thin paper.

  • The Gideon Society puts a Bible in a hotel room drawer. You conceive of yourself as ‘forced’ because you’ve lost any sense of agency.

  • No, it says ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    Having Bibles in hotel rooms does neither.

    Just thought I’d clear that up for you.

  • Because you say so and no other reason.. Never mind that it gives the impression the Navy is endorsing Christian faith.

    If it were not the case, you would not be so gung ho about them there. If it were not a sign of support for Christianity, there would be rational and secular reasons for keeping them there. You don’t have either.

  • I don’t ask for them there. Nobody does. Who are the Gideons to be putting them on government property? For what purpose? It is not for the benefit of people using the rooms.

    So you are left with making empty declarations because you have no valid argument to why they should be there. On military property.

  • Daniel,

    Yes. It is shocking – and frightening
    that people are so ignorant of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

    “You have a republic, if you can keep it.” – Benjamin Franklin

  • Frank,
    Your embrace of Al Queda’s faith argument should shock you – instead you joyfully celebrate how much you can destroy the only document that ensures your religious freedom; the Constitution.

  • Ditto to Atheists who file frivolous, annoying, and expensive lawsuits over minutia. Further the 1st Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law…” Which leaves unaffected the rights of the states under the 10th Amendment, and no the 14th Amendment does not trump the 1st. or the 10th Amendments.

  • @Diogenes:

    “Atheists…file frivolous, annoying, and expensive lawsuits over minutia…”

    Religion is frivolous; “thou shalt not masturbate”
    Religion is annoying; “Creationism makes planes fly”
    Religion is expensive; “Faith is sufficient evidence” – Al Queda, Hamas, Zionism, Catholic League, The Vatican, Westboro Baptist, David Koresh…etc.
    Religion is a joke; “Bats are birds” (Leviticus)
    Religion is dangerous: “Execute them” – Jesus
    Religion is poisonous: “Creationism makes medicine work”
    Religion is a lie: “Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit all add up to one God”
    Religion kills: “Slay them” (Surah)
    Religion destroys critical thought: “You just have to believe in Allah”
    Religion destroys critical thought: “People can live inside a fish for 3 days”
    Religion encourages mental illness: “God turned into a cracker for you”
    Religion encourages mental illness: “Your sickness is caused by your sin”
    Religion encourages mental illness: “Hate your mother” – Jesus
    Religion encourages mental illness: “Hate your life” – Jesus
    Religion cheapens this life: “You get to live again later after you are dead.”

    No wonder Charles Schultz was an Atheist.
    Charlie Brown had enough trouble functioning in society without all that BUNK!

  • Please stop pretending you know anything about our Constitution. The 14 Amendment does not apply here since we are talking about the military. It would be entirely a federal issue.

    Plus, you got it wrong anyway, The 14th Amendment carries the bill of rights protections to the states. It nullifies most “state’s rights: issues on the subject of civil liberties. This is why intellectually dishonest conservatives like to pretend “founder intent” has meaning. They want to avoid the 14th Amendment issues and pretend it never happened.

  • She has said much much more ridiculous things like:

    “They’re [The founders] quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 commandments, it’s pretty simple.””


    “But obviously, we’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies.”


  • “He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells, and um, makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed.” –Sarah Palin, botching the history of Paul Revere’s midnight ride, June 3, 2011

    Look for yourself!
    Try to find one quote from Palin that is NOT fatuous !

  • Its funny ,,, the Bible’s use is encourage in prison, but not in schools, maybe if they were in schools as a reference to right and wrong then maybe there would be less prisons.

  • @Will,

    The Bible does not help anyone with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

    The prisons are full of Christians who know their bibles very well.
    Atheists don’t go to prison.*

    Religion is the poison, not the cure.

    *Pew Research 2013, “Religion and Crime: A Correlation?”

  • @Frank,

    How is it ‘hyperbole’ if it is your main argument??

    You: “God exists”
    You: “You just have to have faith”

    Suicide bomber: “Allah wants infidels dead”
    How do you know?
    Suicide bomber: “You just have to have faith”

    Faith is an assault on human integrity. And a warrant for madness.
    Shame on you.

  • The two greatest sources of social and religious strife are extremist Muslims and extremist atheists. The former go under various names such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, etc. The latter like to refer to themselves as ‘humanists’ although their version of humanity is a bitter and empty one.

  • What the hell are you talking about Sean?

    Militant Muslims are trying to blow up things and kill people.

    While “militant” atheists post on internet discussions, blogs and engage in lawsuits with minority faiths against violations of the separation of church and state. Not exactly subversive or dangerous activities. That is unless you have something against religious freedom.

    The greatest danger to our democratic way of life right now are Christian Fundamentalists. They scream loudly to take shortcuts with civil liberties when they are afraid of Muslims. They blatantly try to use color of law to attack the rights of other. They deliberately undermine democratic principles to promote self-serving discriminatory behavior.

    Their “war on Christianity” is simply being told they can’t get everything they want and may have to play nice others.

  • Its funny how you have to omit important information in order to make a point. Lying for the Lord is still lying.

    The use of pretty much ANY religious text available is encouraged as a way to calm people down (it never actually works).

    There just happens to be an overwhelming number of Christians in prison, making demand for Bibles greater than other texts. Given the loose self-serving morality of Christianity, we should not be surprised that so many lawbreakers read the Bible.

  • @Sean,

    You need an education!

    Militant Muslim – Osama Bin Laden
    Militant Christian – Adolph Hitler
    Militant Jew – Baruch Goldstein

    Militant Atheist – Elton John

  • “Congress shall make no law…”

    Now, let’s even *assume* that “law” includes all policies and official actions having the force of law (as opposed to only statutes and formal regulations), and that “Congress” somehow includes the President and various *Executive Branch* entities like the military. Nevertheless, simply *permitting* Bibles to remain on government premises is not an act with the force of law, and so it would not be implicated.

  • @Anthony Zarrella,

    You are not understanding.

    Congress makes the laws.
    But there can be no law stating the Navy has a religion. Therefore it is unlawful (against the law) for the Navy to be promoting a religion.

    The Navy operates under the laws of Congress – not the other way around!

  • We are getting into some real Bill Clintonesque word parsing and hair splitting here ([he definition of “is” is… 🙂 ].

    Not really the most stirring argument to make when trying to justify a government policy. The Establishment Clause as interpreted by everyone who has an honest good faith reading of it applies it to all actions of government officials, including those serving in the military.

    Again, if not for the obvious endorsement of Christianity by a government entity, there would not be the level of arguments given to the situation.

2019 NewsMatch Campaign: This Story Can't Wait! Donate.