An atheist activist group is ordering a naval facility to remove a Bible from a POW-MIA table as its presence goes against the military's core values and hurts unity, morale, and diversity, Stars and Stripes reported.
What are the details?
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation last week sent a letter to Capt. John Montagnet — commander of Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan — after receiving 15 complaints about the Bible from personnel at the installation, MRFF founder Michael Weinstein told the paper.
The MRFF also sent the letter to Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker, Stars and Stripes said.
POW-MIA tables — which honor missing and captured service members — often are set up in military dining facilities, the paper said, adding that official instructions concerning such tables say they must be round and include a white tablecloth, an empty chair, a black napkin, a single red rose, a yellow candle and ribbon, lemon slices, salt, and an overturned wine glass.
Stars and Stripes added that the regulation also says the displays include a Bible to represent "faith in a higher power and the pledge to our country, founded as one nation under God."
Weinstein, an Air Force veteran, told the paper "this is not a move against Christianity, but one toward inclusivity. Not every sailor is a white, straight Anglo-Saxon Christian male."
Weinstein noted to Stars and Stripes that he hadn't received a response from NAF Atsugi as of Monday.
What did the naval facility have to say?
Base spokesman Sam Samuelson told paper Monday he wasn't aware of the letter.
"The POW-MIA table here is a significant legacy display intended to memorialize and honor American POWs and MIAs among a varied military demographic and is certainly greater than the sum of its parts," Samuelson told Stars and Stripes. "We can absolutely balance the larger meaning of the table with appropriate policies and the interests of our diverse base culture."
More from the paper:
Over the past five years, the MRFF's petitions resulted in the removal of Bibles from POW-MIA tables at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; four Veterans' Administration offices in Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio; and an allergy clinic at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
In 2018, the MRFF filed an inspector general complaint against the Navy over a Bible that was included in a POW-MIA table display at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
In May of 2019, the MRFF backed a federal lawsuit filed against the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center in New Hampshire for including a Bible on its POW-MIA table following complaints relayed through the foundation.
Weinstein said the goal of the MRFF is not to eliminate Bibles, but to promote religious diversity.
'Wrong on every possible level'
"The POW-MIA table is a somber and emotional display," Weinstein told Stars and Stripes. "Including a Bible alienates service members of other cultural or religious groups and is wrong on every possible level. No religious text, not just the Bible, has a place in that display. If the table included a Quran, Book of Mormon, or a Satanist text, there would be blood in the streets."