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Bowing to a complaint from a religious watchdog group, the Pentagon will no longer give consent for a publisher to use the official emblems of the military services on a line of Bibles sold on base exchanges.
The group claimed victory, but an association of former military chaplains is demanding that Congress overturn the Defense Department’s decision.
The Bibles, branded for each of four services as “The Soldier’s Bible,” “The Sailor’s Bible” and so on, are published by LifeWay Christian Resources’ Holman Bible Publishers, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Bible Convention, said Chris Rodda, the senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Rodda, writing on the website Alternet.org, said MRFF has received nearly 2,000 complaints about the Bibles from servicemembers who have seen them displayed and sold in base exchanges. Holman has been publishing its service-specific Bibles at least since 2003, when the Army granted permission to use the U.S. Army seal on the Bible covers.
Homan also produces Bibles for police, firefighters, sportsmen and students, each tailored to its particular audience.
Its military-oriented Bibles include a cover designed for the particular branch, as well as patriotic essays, prayers and hymn lyrics, according to Holman’s website. Each Bible also includes “special content,” including the Armed Forces Code of Conduct; the Pledge of Allegiance; and prayers attributed to George Washington and to World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker.
The MRFF argued that DoD’s permitting the seals of the services to be used on Bibles violated the Constitution’s separation clause.
“The prominent placement of the Army emblem on such a profound religious instrument reveals an intent to convey a message of endorsement of religion,” MRFF said in a Jan. 6, 2011, letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
The Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, made up of former military chaplains to counter what they see as attempts by MRFF and others to deny the exercise of religious expression in the military, called the Pentagon’s action “one more case of Department of Defense officials bowing to political pressure to create a 'religion free' zone in the military."
"These Bibles cost the Department of Defense nothing, and their presence is legally legitimate,” said a statement from retired Army Reserve Chaplain (Col.) Ron Crews, executive director for the alliance. “Therefore, no reason exists for the DoD to retreat in the face of the small anti-religious group that demanded removal of the Bibles.”
Crews suggested to the paper that the Pentagon’s decision is discriminatory, and that he would ask Congress to investigate.
“Why should these Bibles be removed because of the demands of a small activist group?" Crews asked. "MRFF must cease and desist their reckless assault on religious liberty.”