U.S. Navy Removes Bibles from Hotel Rooms after Atheist Group Filed Complaint

Aug 12, 2014 11:53 AM EDT

A recent directive that calls for the removal of Bibles from lodges and hotels run on U.S. Navy bases has gained the ire of navy personnel and religious liberty advocates around the nation.

The directive reportedly comes after an atheist group filed a formal complaint earlier this year due to the placement of Bibles in the rooms.

"The current direction is to remove all religious material from Navy Lodge guest rooms," read an email to a Navy chaplain from The Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM). "For those Navy Lodges with religious materials currently in guest rooms, the Navy Lodge General Manager will contact the Installation Chaplain's office who will provide guidance on the removal procedure disposition of these materials."

According to the American Family Association, they also received such a directive:

"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 the guest rooms," read a directive approved by Michael Bockelman, the vice president of NEXCOM and the director of the Navy Lodge Program.

According to NEXCOM spokesperson Kathleen Martin, "Lodge managers are coordinating with base chaplains regarding the disposition of all religious material," she said, adding that the directive will impact about 40 Navy lodges worldwide.

"We looked at our policy -- and realized there wasn't a consistent policy regarding Navy Lodges," she told Fox News. "We decided we needed to have some consistency and be consistent with the Navy."

The original complaint was filed by the Freedom From Religious Foundation (FFRF) who claimed that the presence of the Bible "amounts to a government endorsement of that religious text."

"FFRF is pleased to learn that NEXCOM has taken seriously its constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion as a representative of our federal government," FFRF Sam Grover told me. "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."

The Bibles are frequently seen in hotel rooms, as Gideons International regularly place them free of charge.

However, according to the American Family Association, those Bible have been removed.

"They told us to put them in boxes where they would be taken to a donation center somewhere," a hotel housekeeper told AFA.

Mikey Weinstein, the president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, expressed his satisfaction at the Navy's directive, noting that his organization has been trying for more than seven years rid military hotel rooms of the Bible.

"We are happy to see the military doing that," Weinstein said. "For years we've been telling them those Bibles are a violation of the Establishment Clause."

However, Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, criticized the Navy for removing the Bibles.

"This is just one more assault by military leaders against anything Christian," Crews told me. "It's getting tiresome to see senior military leaders cave in to those who appear to be offended by Christians, by Christian symbols and now by the Bible itself."

"Our military service men and women have every right to look at literature in hotel rooms -- including the Scriptures," he added.