U.S. Rep. Mike Turner sent a letter to the top general at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base objecting to the removal of a Bible in a POW display at the base medical center.
The Bible, part of a POW/MIA table display in the hospital’s dining facility, was removed last week after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation lodged a complaint, a base spokeswoman has said.
“It is simply unacceptable that (Wright-Patterson) personnel removed the Bible from the display, and I am concerned that similar efforts to restrict religious freedom may be made at other military installations,” Turner, R-Dayton, said in the April 13 letter to Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command headquartered at Wright-Patterson.
The congressman and member of the House Armed Services Committee also was concerned the decision could have an impact on religious symbols in exhibits at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The MRFF, which cited constitutional concerns about displaying the Bible in the medical center POW exhibit, said the group received 31 complaints, 10 of which were from people identified as Christians, according to Mikey Weinstein, MRFF founder and president.
He chided Turner’s letter Wednesday.
“The letter is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” he said. “He’s grandstanding in an election year, throwing red meat to the conservative electorate that’s out there.”
Turner defended his stance.
“It’s a very dangerous precedent to have a group that has an issue campaign to effect policy on a government installation merely by complaining,” the congressman said. “Their voice should not be any greater than anyone else’s. This is an issue of national policy, not an issue of individual affront or concern, and it needs to be handled in that manner.”
Turner said he wants answers about what happened to lead to the decision to pull the Bible.
“We need to know exactly what happened, what was the process, why was this done, and we need to ensure this is not a pattern of policy change that’s going to be enforced across the base impacting religious expression and symbols,” he said.
The installation commander made the decision to remove the Bible “after thoroughly assessing the situation,” Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an email Monday. Col. John M. Devillier is the installation commander.
In a statement Wednesday, AFMC spokesman Ron Fry said the command and the Air Force “place a high value of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or no religion at all.”
“Our leaders and personnel are encouraged to accommodate the free exercise of religion and other personal beliefs, including freedom of expression unless it has an adverse impact on mission accomplishment,” he wrote. “Air Force leaders must carefully balance constitutional protections of individuals’ free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs with the constitutional separation of church and state. They must ensure their actions cannot reasonably be construed to officially endorse, disapprove of, or extend preferential treatment to any faith or absence of faith.”
Impact at AF museum?
Turner said he was concerned Air Force museum exhibits that have religious symbols might “suddenly become at risk.”
Weinstein called the concern “ridiculous.”
“I guess he’s afraid that if they take that Christian Bible, which is clearly an example of elevating one particular faith over all others or no faith in violation of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment and (military regulations) … that somehow the famous Air Force museum … is going to lose many of it’s exhibits, which is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a red herring.”
Fry said museum exhibits are “presented in historical context” and there are no plans to change what’s displayed.
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 in recent weeks. Those Bibles also were removed.
In his letter, Turner cited his work to reverse a former architect of the Capitol decision in 2007 to omit a reference to God on a flag certificate to a local man. The certificates are given to constituents along with flags flown over the U.S. Capitol.
After 160 members of Congress signed a letter objected to the removal, and the certificate was reissued with the word God included.
The Andrew Larochelle God, Family, and Country Act, which would have ended a ban on religious expressions on flag certificates, passed the Senate, but died in the House.
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