Officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base removed a Bible from a display to honor prisoners of war and service members missing in action at a hospital dining facility, following complaints from an advocacy group.
The book was removed after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, responding to complaints from service members stationed at the Ohio base, argued that the display should be moved to the base chapel or that it should honor POWs and MIAs of all religions and also those who have no religious affiliation.
"This is not persecution or victimization of Christianity," said Mikey Weinstein, MRFF's leader. "This is simply an example where the Air Force should have a policy that makes it absolutely clear that nobody's religious affiliation is on [exclusive] display."
Weinstein said his group would continue to "attack aggressively" any similar situations that are "a violation of the separation of church and state." It has mounted similar, successful, efforts in Ohio recently to have Bibles removed from displays at Department of Veteran's Affairs facilities in Akron and Youngstown.
MRFF demanded the base either move the display to the chapel, display books of multiple faiths and include one on atheist ideology, remove the Bible, or replace it with a "prop book" that would let viewers draw their own conclusions on what it represents.
The base chose to remove the Bible.
"We thoroughly assessed this particular situation and made the determination to remove the Bible," said Marie Vanover, a spokeswoman for Wright-Patterson. "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."
The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian advocacy group, announced that it will be joining 15 other organizations in sending a letter next week to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and members of Congress asking for a resolution to similar situations that have occurred at other hospitals around the country.
"We think it's just a clear First Amendment violation," said Chris Gacek, a senior fellow with FRC. "We don't see how anyone would mistake the table for representing the government. … We think that this action is vile to both the expressive and religious rights of the people there."