Bible removed from POW display at Wright-Patt medical center

Controversy flares over use of religious symbol

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Wright-Patterson Medical Center has removed a Bible from a POW/MIA display after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation lodged a complaint, according to a base spokesperson.

Mikey Weinstein, MRFF founder and president, said the organization was contacted by 31 people who objected to the Bible as part of the table display, including 10 who identified themselves as Christians.

“They objected very clearly that having the Christian Bible on that table provided supremacy to one faith over all the other faiths, and since these are government facilities, that’s a direct violation of the no establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution,” Weinstein said.

“In this instance, allowing that Christian Bible to be there is a very odious example of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism, supremacy, and exceptionalism and primacy,” he said. “Our veterans saw it, our members saw it. They’re not going to sit back and take this anymore.”

Weinstein said his group, which is based in Albuquerque, N.M., and represents more than 45,000 service members and veterans, has received complaints from throughout the country over religious displays. The group’s efforts have angered some, and Weinstein said an MRFF staffer resigned last week citing online threats to him and his family over the removal of Bibles at federal facilities.

The installation commander at Wright-Patterson, Col. John M. Devillier, made the decision to remove the Bible from the display at the medical center last week “after thoroughly assessing the situation,” Wright-Patt spokeswoman Marie Vanover said. Devillier was not available for comment Monday.

“Mutual respect is an essential part of the Air Force culture and we must ensure we create an environment in which people can realize their highest potential regardless of one’s personal religious or other beliefs,” Vanover said in an email.

Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-headquartered Thomas More Law Center, objected to the removal.

“The courts have said ceremonial displays not meant to proselytize anyone is not considered an establishment of religion,” said Thompson. “It is there for someone to acknowledge or that person does not have to acknowledge it. … They can either accept the Bible being there or, if they are really offended by the Bible, they could turn away. “

Thompson said the base commander “capitulated” to the demand to remove the book.

“We cannot separate God and the Judeo-Christian principles upon which our country is founded from the military who dedicate their lives, who put themselves in harm’s way, when they are performing their duties,” Thompson said. “And certainly had the commanding officer wanted to fight this attempt to intimidate them from removing the Bible, we would have been happy to represent the organization without charge and I think would have won the case.”

The center is a member of the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition.

Weinstein’s group also objected to the inclusion of Bibles in “POW/MIA Missing Man” displays at VA facilities in Akron and Youngstown following complaints, he said. Those too were removed.

“This is not Christian victimization,” he said. “This is Christian equalization. Why does the Christian book of faith get put into a solemn and critical memorial to that sacrifice of our wonderful members of the military, POWs and MIAs, over everybody else’s faith book?”

Volunteers and veterans organizations donated the Bibles for the two displays at the clinics and made the decision to remove them, according to Kristen Parker, a spokeswoman at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.

“The Cleveland VA Medical Center honors and respects the humanity of all, and protects the freedoms and rights guaranteed for each of us,” she said in an email. “Because the VA cannot endorse, promote or inhibit one religion over another, we couldn’t influence the final decision on whether or not the Bibles remained or were removed from the displays as the displays were donated and are maintained by volunteer organizations.”

The Cleveland VA brought the concerns of both sides to the groups, she added.

The Bible was removed in the Akron display, and volunteers replaced the religious book in Youngstown with a “prop book” to allow a veteran “to individualize the meaning behind the book when they pay their respects to the POW/MIA table,” Parker said.

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