Officials at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs have removed an open Bible from a major's desk after complaints from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Base officials also are investigating if allowing the Bible on the desk was a reasonable accommodation of the officer's religious beliefs or if it violated the separation of church and state, the Colorado Springs Independent reported.
"The basic premise of the Air Force instruction [on religious freedom], grounded in Department of Defense policy, grounded in law is, people have an inherent right to free exercise of religion within boundaries," Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander, told the Independent. "At the same time, people have freedom to be left alone. It's finding that right balance. The challenge of the commander is to be sure both people are treated fairly."
MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein's complaint letter to Feltman describes Maj. Steve Lewis' "egregious Constitutional and DoD regulatory violations":
For years he has kept an open, yellow highlighted Christian bible displayed front and center, quite prominently, on his official USAF work desk in an open office work environment. The egregious Constitutional and DoD regulatory violations of such a brazen display of sectarian Christian triumphalism and exceptionalism have been noted by many USAF members through the years but they have not sought to officially seek redress and remediation from this outrageous display of callous and bold Christian primacy from their respective USAF chains of command due to all-too-credible fears of reprisal and retribution from same.
"It certainly gives the appearance of favoritism toward one religion," a base member told the Independent on the condition of anonymity over fear of retribution. "I'm a Christian myself, and it's concerning. I don't think people should be promoted or given opportunities based on whatever [religion] they are. It should be about your performance."
The member told the paper that the open Bible on Lewis' desk gives the impression that Christianity is the favored religion on the base. The Independent added that dozens of military members contacted the MRFF to report the Bible after it was brought up in a survey last year but not removed.
Feltman told the Independent that the investigation will be conducted quickly: "If a person has a Koran display or book of Satan, they're free to have that on display and read it as long as they're not proselytizing, trying to entice someone to their particular viewpoint."
After Feltman told Weinstein an investigation was underway, the MRFF founder issued the following statement to the Independent:
The 310th “Space" Wing is NOT called the 310th “Space For My Personal Proselytizing Christian Bible Shrine” Wing for a damn good reason. Major Steve Lewis has created an around-the-clock Christian Bible Shrine on his official USAF workstation desk that has been in prominent static display for YEARS. The pages in his open bible on his USAF desk never change, ever. Thus, it is obviously there as a religious display to promote to others his Christian faith. This sectarian display is a disastrous travesty which completely serves all too well as an absolute textbook violation of Air Force Instruction 1-1, Section 2.12 as well as the No Establishment Clause and No Religious Test Clause of the United States Constitution. MRFF is very pleased that, pursuant to MRFF’s specific demand, this bible has expeditiously been removed from Major Lewis’ desk pending the the ongoing Commander Directed Investigation which MRFF also demanded. In my nearly 12 minute call with the 310th Wing Commander, Colonel Feltman, yesterday, he promised me that he would be open and fair in all of his dealings on this matter with MRFF and its 33 clients at Peterson AFB and Schriever AFB. We will hold him to his word. So far, MRFF has been impressed with his honesty and responsiveness.
(H/T: Todd Starnes)