Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a conservative Republican candidate for president in 2008 and 2016, called on President Trump to reverse Air Force officials' decision to remove a copy of the Bible from a display table meant to honor prisoners of war and service members missing in action.
“This is an issue I’d love to see the president interject himself into," Huckabee, the father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Fox & Friends Saturday morning. “I’d love to see him say, as commander in chief of the military, ‘Put the Bible back on the table. Let’s not be stupid about this.'”
In recent years, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation — an advocacy group that says it’s dedicated to upholding service members’ constitutional right of religious freedom — has repeatedly objected to the inclusion of Bibles within POW/MIA displays at military bases and VA hospitals and clinics. The issue arose again recently at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, near Cheyenne, Wyoming, which like many other bases had placed an POW/MIA table in its military dining facility. The tables date back to the Vietnam War.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation petitioned the base in May to remove the Bible and replace it with a generic “book of faith” respecting all religions, according to Mikey Weinstein, the group’s founder and president.
Weinstein told Military Times that 36 airmen on base are clients of his foundation.
“Of those 36 clients, 21 are practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics, and the remaining 15 are a mix of other groups and backgrounds,” he said.
Weinstein’s demand was met July 17 when Col. Stacy J. Huser, the commander of the 90th Missile Wing at F.E. Warren, alerted him that base chaplains had purchased a generic “book of faith” and would replace the Bible with it.
The Air Force has ruled that one of its commanders had a right to exercise his religious beliefs when he declined to sign a certificate of appreciation for the same-sex spouse of an airman under his command.
“Until it arrives, I’ve asked them to rotate the book placed on the table (through various faiths). Yesterday they placed the Book of Mormon on the table,” Huser said in an email to Weinstein that was published on the MRFF website. “I will contact you again when our permanent ‘book of faith’ is on display. Thank you again for taking care of our Airmen. One of my focus areas is increasing a sense of belonging for all our Airmen.”
A generic “book of faith” contains spiritual writings and prayers from the five chaplain-appointed faith groups within the Defense Department, as well as a sixth set of blank pages to represent those who are atheistic or agnostic, Weinstein said.
Since then, a number of conservative commentators have lashed out at the switch, including Huckabee and Todd Starnes, a host of Fox News & Commentary.
On the Fox News website, Starnes wrote that the Air Force had “surrendered" in the face of MRFF’s demands.
“I find it heartbreaking and deeply offensive that Weinstein and his minions would declare war on a sacred military tradition,” Starnes wrote. “And if the Military Religious Freedom Foundation refuses to stand down, we must stand up and urge the Trump administration to defend the POW/MIA tables.”
Weinstein has written that the tables, which are a tradition, didn’t originally include Bibles. Their inclusion is a more recent phenomenon.
He also expressed concern that, given the role of Huckabee’s daughter within the Trump administration, the president could attempt to weigh in on this issue.
“If Trump dared push that button, we will have him in court about as quickly as you can possibly imagine,” Weinstein said.
As evidence to support his case that the Bible has no place on the table display, Weinstein cited the “No Religious Test Clause” within Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution, as well as Air Force Instruction 1-1, Sec. 2.12.
That AFI states “leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion.”