Americans United for Separation of Church and State today sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson urging them to support a Wyoming Air Force base commander’s efforts to ensure religious tolerance.
Col. Stacey J. Huser, commander of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, ordered a Bible removed from the base’s Missing Man Table – a display often erected at military bases during special occasions to honor fallen, missing or imprisoned servicemembers – after receiving a complaint from Mikey Weinstein at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on behalf of 36 base officers and enlisted personnel.
Huser had the Bible replaced with a book containing prayers from a variety of faiths as well as blank pages to represent those who are nonreligious. She is now being attacked by the Family Research Council, a Washington, D.C.-based Religious Right group, and other organizations, which are demanding that the Bible be used on the table instead.
“Col. Huser did the right thing,” said Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser. “Our military is diverse, and Col. Huser’s decision to replace the Bible with a book that respects all faiths and the nonreligious was an elegant solution. She deserves to be applauded, not assailed.”
AU’s letter, written by Legal Director Richard B. Katskee, Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser and Staff Attorney Ian Smith, explains that display of the Bible violates both the First Amendment and Air Force regulations.
“The men and women of the armed forces derive spiritual strength from many different texts, and servicemembers belong to a diversity of faiths, including no faith at all,” observes the letter. “The use of one religion’s holy book to represent the ‘spiritual strength and faith’ of all thus endorses the beliefs of some while relegating all others to second-class status. That the Constitution forbids.”
Concludes the letter, “Please do not overturn Col. Huser’s actions in this matter. Removal of the Bible from the Missing Man Table was required under the law.”
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.