Anchors Aweigh, Cowards: U.S. Navy Reauthorizing Gideons Bibles on Facilities?
The United States Navy is equipped to take down any enemy around the globe and is, by far, the most formidable seaborne fighting force known in the history of humankind. It’s larger than the next 13 navies of other countries combined, and no credible military threat exists on the planet that’s capable of realistically surmounting the massive killing capacity of the American fleet. Why, then, does such a feared force slink away in abject cowardice when it comes to upholding the U.S. Uniformed Services sworn Constitutional oath which all officers and NCOs are bound to solemnly affirm? Aren’t all armed forces personnel bound by the once-sacrosanct commitment to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic?
Sadly, this doesn’t seem to be the case. This truly pathetic state of affairs was illustrated just late yesterday (August 14, 2014) by the abrupt and exceedingly wretched capitulation by the U.S. Navy to the shadowy forces of domestic religious extremism. Indeed, the powerful Christian fundamentalist lobby has successfully fought to make Gideons Bibles a permanent, proselytizing fixture in the global network of U.S. Navy-administered, federally funded, military installation lodging facilities or hotels.
The drama played out earlier this week when a critically important directive from senior Navy leadership was initially made public. This new Navy order, announced by Naval Exchange Service Commander (NEXCOM) Rear Admiral Robert J. Bianchi, stipulated that Gideons Bibles would no longer be allowed in the rooms of the 34 Naval Lodges and 24,000 rooms at Navy Gateway Inns and Suites located throughout the entirety of the United States Navy. The removal came after a complaint was submitted by our allies at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) – NOT to be confused with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the civil rights organization that I lead.
However, almost immediately after Admiral Bianchi’s Constitutionally laudable directive had been announced, the all too predictable and abominable refrain of a faux “war on Christianity” rang fully throughout the Dominionist Christian echo chamber. Quite expectedly, once the Navy’s senior leadership caught wind of the disingenuous cry that “Lord Jesus had a hard time getting a room at the inn, and now, His Holy Word will no longer be welcome either,” they "turned about” 180 degrees and took off like terrified terriers with their tails between their scrambling legs. The Navy suddenly reversed its merely 3-day-old prior decision and is now “temporarily” placing the Bibles back in the lodges while it takes a breather to figure out what the final "new policy" going forward will be. Uh huh. Yeah, let’s just call it what it is: C-O-W-A-R-D-I-C-E!
Sure, the re-placement of the Gideons Bibles is “temporary.” If you believe that, then I’ve got a beach bungalow in Mosul, Iraq to sell you.
As the frontline civil rights force ensuring Constitutional compliance within the byzantine, insular and xenophobic culture of the U.S. Military, MRFF has been fighting for the removal of the Gideons Bibles from all service branches' installation Lodges for the better part of the last decade. In 2012 MRFF succeeded in forcing the DoD to remove official U.S. Military emblems from the Holman Military Bibles being sold in military base exchanges worldwide. MRFF knows all too well the ultra-tribal, adversarial, communal and ritualistic nature of our nation’s military “ethnicity.” We’ve received literally hundreds of these specific complaints from MRFF clients every year about the unsolicited planting of these Gideons Bibles. MRFF's years of aggressive advocacy to remove these Gideons Bibles from armed forces base lodges likely aided nontrivially in the passage of the initial directive, which followed the formal complaint courageously submitted by the FRFF. Considering the foregoing, you can appreciate the absurd headline of one fundamentalist Christian article regarding the issue: “Mikey Weinstein Strikes Again!”
Of course, our problem isn’t with the New Testament Bible or any other revered text of faith or of even no faith. Indeed, our problem is with the purposeful and brutal destruction of the Constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the technologically most lethal organization ever created; the United States armed forces. There should be absolutely no confusion between the right to freely exercise one’s religious faith and the right of powerful sectarian interest groups like the pernicious Family Research Council and the American Family Association (both officially designated as hate groups by the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center) to lobby for the official establishment of a "national religion”… and you guessed it right, that national religion would be fundamentalist (or dominionist) evangelical Christianity.
It is just incontestable that there exists an obvious, insuperable proselytizing advantage afforded this vicious and twisted perversion of an otherwise most noble faith by the omnipresence of the Gideons Bibles at TAXPAYER-FUNDED Navy Lodges. This illicit bonanza for fundamentalist Christianity is a literally crystal clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, which is precisely why the original Naval directive to remove the Gideons Bibles was absolutely correct as a matter of law. MRFF, along with our client base of tens of thousands of United States military members and veterans, would have been similarly incensed if, rather than Gideons Bibles, the Navy-run lodges carried the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hebrew Scriptures, Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion, or similar material of an exclusivist religious, atheistic, or sectarian nature.
Additionally, by ONLY making available Gideons Bibles, the U.S. Navy was also brazenly violating two bedrock DoD regularity directives which (1) strictly prohibit the provision of a selective benefit to and/or (2) endorsing a non-Federal Entity, like Gideons International, which is singularly devoted to evangelizing the New Testament. This concept is simple. For example, DoD cannot endorse Burger King over McDonalds or Crest over Colgate. There is, however, no separation between "hamburger and state" nor "toothpaste and state" in our Constitution.
That said, how in the hell could DoD endorse one fundamentalist version of extremist Christianity over all other Christian denominational sects, not to mention non-Christian and non-faith communities? Easy answer; DoD cannot do such a thing. Yet it just did, and has been doing so for decades now!
Unfortunately, we’ve grown used to the weapons-grade Constitutional cowardice displayed by the Pentagon. DoD always ignobly runs for cover at light speed when Christian extremist “Chicken Littles” squawk about the “falling skies” of so-called religious repression due to alleged “Christian victimization". Listen up now; there IS no Christian victimization. There is only "Christian equalization”. Now, previously (unconstitutionally) privileged Christian fundamentalists have to share their toys with everyone else. And they sure don’t like it, do they? The usual rogues’ gallery of theocratic, fundamentalist Christian parachurch monstrosities, along with their bootlicker Congressional lapdogs, has a direct and unfettered line to the Pentagon. They possess an unmatched ability to frighten and cow the top DoD brass into a compliant, pathetically supine state of “Stepford Wife” blind obedience. Damn the torpedoes and Constitution, full proselytizing speed ahead!
This horrifying national security threat begs the question: what are Americans prepared to do about the surging evangelical fundamentalist Christian coup which threatens to subsume the United States military?
I will suggest this for an answer; fight back against these Christian fundamentalist terrorists with every fiber of our collective beings and to the full limits of our legal, ethical and moral ability to do so...as if our very lives depended upon it.
Because they do.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is up against well-funded extremist religious organizations. Your donations allow us to continue our fight in the courts and in the media to fight for separation of church and state in the U.S. military. Please make a fully tax-deductible donation today at helpbuildthewall.org.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. is founder and president of the six-time Nobel Peace Prize-nominated Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an honor graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former J.A.G. in the U.S. Air Force. He served as a White House counsel in the Reagan Administration and as the Committee Management Officer of the “Iran-Contra” Investigation. He is also the former General Counsel to H. Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. His two sons, daughter-in-law, son-in law, and brother-in-law are also graduates of USAFA. In December 2012, Defense News named Mikey one of the 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense. He is the author of “With God On Our Side”(2006, St. Martin’s Press) and “No Snowflake in an Avalanche” (2012, Vireo).