(RNS) The U.S. Navy will no longer allow Bibles and other religious materials in the guest rooms of Navy lodges, a decision that has infuriated some conservative groups, which recently learned about the new policy.
The Navy’s decision came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter questioning the constitutionality of religious literature in the Navy lodges’ 3,000 guest rooms.
The June 19 directive from the Navy Exchange Service Command, which runs the Navy’s 39 guest lodges in the U.S. and abroad, allows religious materials to be made available to guests. But it forbids religious items to be placed in guest rooms, aligning the command, known as NEXCOM, with U.S. Navy policy, said NEXCOM spokeswoman Kathleen Martin.
On Tuesday (Aug. 12) the American Family Association made the directive the subject of its latest “action alert,” asking members to call Navy officials to reverse the decision. The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty has called on the Navy to do the same.
“Our U.S. soldiers are being asked to respect the Muslim religion while Christians are being categorically discriminated against,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “Such an attack on religious liberty has no place in the United States military.”
But supporters of the Navy directive, said it rights a constitutional wrong, in that the Establishment Clause does not allow the U.S. government to promote or favor any particular religion.
“We would be just as angry if there was a Quran or a Torah or Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion,’” in the bedside tables of these Navy lodges, said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The directive asks lodge managers to work with Navy chaplains to determine “the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms.”
The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty said NEXCOM was trampling on a long-standing tradition.
“A Bible in a hotel room is no more illegal than a chaplain in the military. They are there for those who want them,” said retired Army Reserve Chaplain Ron Crews, the alliance’s executive director. “There is nothing wrong with allowing the Gideons to place Bibles in Navy lodges, which it has done for decades at no cost to the Navy.”
by Lauren Markoe