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Controversy erupts over Bible in Okinawa naval hospital display

This Bible in a POW/MIA display at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa was the impetus for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s complaint with the Navy. Photo courtesy of MRFF

(RNS) — Navy officials are investigating complaints about the placement of a Bible in a public display about POW/MIAs at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, the service’s largest overseas medical facility.

The investigation, opened Friday (April 6), follows the filing of a complaint by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit established to promote religious freedom in the U.S. military.

The complaint was brought on behalf of 26 military families on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the majority of them Christian, according to the foundation. They hold that the religiosity of the display violates the Constitution, in particular the First Amendment clause that prohibits government establishment of religion.

The complaint reads in part:

“The issue here is that by including a Bible as part of the POW/MIA Display in the public Galley, it signifies two things. First, that this is an official, command-endorsed Display. Second, that the command is endorsing Christianity (versus other major religions or non-religious beliefs) as expressed in the Christian Bible to the total exclusion of any other belief systems or non-belief traditions.”

Foundation president Mikey Weinstein said he also was concerned about a placard on the display, in Japanese and English, which read in part, “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God.”

A Bible and similar language were suggested in the Navy’s official blog in 2014 for display tables honoring prisoners of war and military members missing in action. But Weinstein said the placard’s wording and its translation into Japanese amounts to evangelization. “We’re having our lawyers look at whether or not this violates the Status of Forces Agreement, or the treaty we have with Japan,” he said.

“Christianity gets no special treatment in the eyes of the law,” he added.

But Mark Stephensen, vice chairman of the National League of POW/MIA Families, disagrees with the MRFF, saying there was “no bias intended” in placing a Bible on a “Missing Man” table.

“The Bible was always intended to be there,” said Stephensen, of Boise, Idaho. “The POWs held in Hanoi vehemently turned to God for comfort and safety and persistence.”

The remains of Stephensen’s father, U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Stephensen, were returned from Vietnam 21 years after the aircraft he was piloting went down.

“I don’t see where the harm is,” Stephensen added. “If somebody’s going to take offense to it, they’re making a conscious effort to be offended.”

Asked about the POW/MIA group’s position, Weinstein said the American Legion does not require a Bible at its “Missing Man” displays, though some legion posts suggest its inclusion.

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Mark A. Kellner

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  • Let’s put a Quran on the table, and see how many people are going to make a conscious effort to be offended.

  • The “Military Religious Freedom Foundation” seems ill-named at best. Rather than argue to keep the bible out, they should be arguing to allow other texts in. Each individual has the right and power before God to embrace or not embrace whichever belief system suits them best. Personally, I find the themes and theology of Christianity to be unanswerable and unchallengeable by any other argument, but as members of the military whether presently serving, POWs, or MIAs come from a variety of faith backgrounds…or none at all, I have no objection to all being served. Light is a good disinfectant.

  • Pop-quiz me now or never, brother “Mark Stephensen, vice chairman of the National League of POW/MIA Families”.

    But 1st off my condolences for “U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Stephensen [whose remains] were returned from Vietnam 21 years after the aircraft he was piloting went down.”

    And my condolences to the people of Vietnam whose loved ones he might’ve likely killed in that 666th War Made in USA.

    (1) TRUE OR FALSE: “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those [POW/MIA] lost from [America], founded one nation under God [for the Cold War against Commies].”

    FALSE. That’s BLASPHEMY, BIBLIOLATRY & PAGAN SUPERSTITION. Shame on you, my fellow brother in Christ Jesus!

    (2) TRUE OR FALSE: “On a ‘Missing Man’ table … the Bible was always intended to be there … [That’s why] the POWs held in Hanoi vehemently turned to God for comfort and safety and persistence.”

    FALSE. That’s BLASPHEMY, BIBLIOLATRY & PAGAN SUPERSTITION. Shame on you, my fellow brother in Christ Jesus!

  • “Mickey”? Who’s “Mickey”?
    The Mouse, or Rooney, or Mantle – “Mickey”? Oh, yeah, you mean …

  • What’s the harm? If it were the Torah or Quran – by themselves – fundamentalists would be besides themselves with anger. Represent them all or none at all. It is easy for others to see this distinction. But no, this is that darned ‘War on Christianity’.

  • When those complaining can point to a particular sect enjoying particular special legal benefits not available to other sects in similar situations, THEN they will have a valid Establishment Clause argument. The courts have been taking way too broad and “interpretation” of that clause in order to push a secular agenda for generations.

    And yeah, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation seems to be as misnamed as a pro-choice group named “For the Children.”

  • At the MEPPS stations Gideons were given exclusive rights to distribute their bibles. No other religions were allowed to distribute their religious texts. Glad a stop has been put to this as my Muslim and Jewish shipmates deserved better treatment before swearing their oaths to protect and defend.

  • 1 – What makes you think that MRFF is not in favour of inclusive displays (provided that they are not restricted only to the different varieties of supernatural belief that constitute religion)?

    2 – Please tell me why you think that “Each individual has the right and power before God to embrace or not embrace whichever belief system suits them best.”

    To so think you have to assume the existence not only of god(s) but of God. Those are assumptions you are entitled to make, devoid of valid evidence and logical support though they are. But I really don’t think that you are entitled to extend that freedom to believe in a deity so as claim as a “right” something that is dependant upon the existence of an unprovable mental construct – however sincere the belief may be.

  • You know better than the courts?

    Your area of relevant specific expertise being?

    Where do you get the idea that the law requires “a particular sect (to be) enjoying particular special legal benefits not available to other sects”? My understanding is that the courts are asked to rule on whether the state is, or appears to be, promoting religion or non-religion (generally or specifically) over other worldview(s). Can you explain how I’ve so gravely misunderstood the situation please?

  • Know better than judges that believe that the Constitution means whatever they want it to mean, that it is their job to “perfect” the Constitution rather than apply it? Absolutely. Leaving aside the fact that the Constitution simply isn’t that complicated, all the learning in the world won’t help you if you are reasoning is based on flawed premises — in fact, it just makes it worse.

    As for the Establishment Clause, all you have to do is look at the situation when the Constitution was ratified. “Establishment of Religion” didn’t refer to overarching religions, Christianity was assumed. Instead, it had to do with individual sects within the Christian religion — Quakers, Anglicans, etc. — and the special status they might hold in law. Look up the definition of “state church.” It also protected the still-existing established churches at the state level from federal interference.

  • An assertion of expertise when there is none— what is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    “As for the Establishment Clause, all you have to do is look at the situation when the Constitution was ratified.” But let’s apply your logic to guns. You have the right to bear as many single shot muskets and pistols as you wish. There is your uninfringed right to bear arms, looking at the situation when the constitution was ratified.

    Isn’t it funny how things that could have been very specific in the constitution and it’s amendments were not left specific, but general? It’s almost as if the writers thought that the world would not remain permanently in 1783 or in 1866.

  • Ever notice that whenever Dominionists try to define the Establishment Clause, they do so in such a narrow way as to never be applicable?

  • Pretty much how they view the bible, the constitution, and anything else what gets in the way of being dominionists.

  • Absolutely untrue.

    Establishment Clause violations have
    been ruled for numerous non-sect specific displays and acts by
    government personnel. The special legal benefit here is the impression
    that only one type of faith is recognized and accepted by the government
    to the exclusion of others.

    “Instead, it had to do with individual sects within the Christian religion”

    If one is to ignore all the prior history and ascribe to a fictional narrative which attacks all religious freedom.
    Such as the early publicly acknowledging the rights of a decidedly non-christian religious group.
    https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-06-02-0135

    “Let Jews, Mehometans and Christians of every denomination
    enjoy religious liberty…thrust them not out now by establishing the Christian
    religion lest thereby we become our own enemys and weaken this infant state”
    https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/0205/tolerance.html

  • Only if you have no appreciation for religious freedom or have some deep seated hate of Christianity that you would like to see it undermined by coerced belief.

  • Including a Bible in the display givens the false impression that all those who fought in that war and were lost were Christian and that the Bible represent our military.

    It does not. What this does is deny that we are a nation of people of many religions and that we do not have an established national religion. We protect all religions equally.

    This is really blatant proselytizing of a particular religious faith and has no place in a government sanctioned memorial to our war heroes.

    Other commenters have made this point but it is very important. Putting a Bible on the table is an in-your-face bias. If you would react negatively were the Bible being replaced with Torah scrolls or a copy of a Quran, then take what you feel and realize that is how others feel. I don’t care if the majority of soldiers were Christian or if the majority of citizens of today are Christian – we do not have an established religion in the United States of America. And you may not choose a particular religions symbology and attempt to say it represents all religions. It doesn’t.

  • Nonsense! Courts have always insured that no religious group get special access to government works or displays. As Roy Moore learned when he had to remove his Ten-Commandments stone from the courthouse…then cry and play the victim.

    The only way this POW-MIA display becomes constitutional is if it loses the Bible…Or you could make room for a Quran, a Rig-Veda script, a Buddha, a Voodoo-doll and a Native American spirit head-dress.

  • If you’re going to honor MIAs and the memory of those who never came back, and whose bodies were never found, exactly how does it help to exclude the faith that most of them held? Is MRFF going to pretend that those whose bodies were found are not generally buried under a cross or a Star of David?

    For the record, this would include Jewish servicemen, as the empty chair, bitter lemon, salt representing tears, and the like remind me of Elijah’s seat, bitter herbs, salt water….and the first four fifths of that Bible is their holy book too. Really, the fact that MRFF missed this obvious symbolism says something about their cultural knowledge, something not exactly polite.

  • No, the military is not just made up of Jews and Christians. And the Christian Bible is a poor symbol for Jews…The new testament calls for Jews to be punished for generations to come. Mathew 27:25

    Not only that — other Christian denominations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept the standard versions of the Bible.

    Christian’s need to stop making their speculative god everybody’s deity…The Bible has to go !!

  • “all the learning in the world won’t help you if you are reasoning is based on flawed premises — in fact, it just makes it worse.”

    You do realise that that statement undermines all religious belief do you?

  • You gonna rip out all those crosses and Stars of David from Arlington, too, buddy? It’s on government property.

    There’s something really special about people who object to religious imagery being used to memorialize the dead. Sorry, but the same government that drafted those boys (and girls) owes it to them to respect their religious faith when they don’t come back.

  • It’s the usual…christians pulling out their johnsons and pi$$ing their christian privilege and supremacy in every ones faces.

  • Arlington graves are private plots. That table with the buybull is not.
    Religious faith is made up, meaningless BS and no one is obligated to respect it and you can bet most of the servicemen who died really didn’t give a shyt about any religion and were about as “good christians” as the ones who started America’s civil war and killed 650,000 fellow christians.
    Everything about gods and religions are pure BS. Every bit of it. So put your johnson back in your pants and stop pi$$ing your stupid christian BS on everyone and everything.

  • “You gonna rip out all those crosses and Stars of David from Arlington, too…”

    Apples and oranges. The apples are Bibles in a public display; the oranges are the crosses, Stars of David, etc. on individual graves in quiet areas that generally don’t draw a lot of traffic.

  • No…individual grave markers are by family preference, not the government. You obviously can’t comprehend these distinctions.

    You are the one lacking respect for faith…when you support one holy book chosen by the government to be everybody’s holy book.

  • .
    EB-S: “Rather than argue to keep the bible out, they should be arguing to allow other texts in.”

    Sheriff Brody says “You’re gonna need a bigger table.”

    21 Apr 2017: “The Department of Defense announced a near doubling of its list of recognized religions. It will now formally recognize humanism and other minority faiths among members of the armed forces.

    “Previously, the U.S. military recognized just over 100 religions. The new list has grown to 221 to include the earth-based faiths, such as heathens and Asatru, and an additional eight Protestant groups, including the International Communion of the Charismatic Christian Church.”

    And including Pagans, Heathens, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics.

    https://religionnews.com/2017/04/21/defense-department-expands-its-list-of-recognized-religions/
    .

  • .
    If it really IS a “fact that the Constitution simply isn’t that complicated”, then why resort to “all you have to do is look at the situation when the Constitution was ratified”? And then just make stuff up?

    You present yourself as truly clueless.

    (ProTip: David Barton is a willful and pathological liar.)
    .

  • The complaint registered by the MRFF speaks for itself. Your argument regarding my assumptions, the question of valid evidence, and logical support is framed by your own subjective opinion in each category cited. As to your last point, each of us has the right to frame the parameters of belief in our own mind. The proof of God is sufficient in my estimation and I therefore claim the right to own it. Others’ rights of belief on provable or unprovable mental constructs belong to them.

  • “The complaint registered by the MRFF speaks for itself. ”

    “”The issue here is that by including a Bible as part of the POW/MIA Display in the public Galley, it signifies two things. First, that this is an official, command-endorsed Display. Second, that the command is endorsing Christianity (versus other major religions or non-religious beliefs) as expressed in the Christian Bible to the total exclusion of any other belief systems or non-belief traditions.””

    The display is not inclusive and that is clearly referenced in the complaint.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    ” Your argument regarding my assumptions, the question of valid evidence, and logical support is framed by your own subjective opinion in each category cited. ”

    Do you really think that it is possible to have “the right and power before God” if there is no “God”? (let alone “god”)

    – – – – – – – – –

    ” The proof of God is sufficient in my estimation…. ”

    Fair enough – we disagree but fair enough – what your belief does not do though is establish a “right and power before God” just because you believe – otherwise everyone with a crackpot belief (crackpot meaning unverifiable) has any right they chose to have and you have to accept the consequences of that “right”. What happens when someone’s “right” is incompatible with the “right” you have chosen? Does your “right” prevail because its yours, because you’re male/female, straight/gay, armed/unarmed, white/black, tall/short or older/younger? – you see where this is going?

  • Arlington isn’t a public display? And it doesn’t get much traffic? Seriously?

    With comments like that, please don’t presume to lecture anyone on facts. Just sayin’.

  • Arlington Cemetery draws many visitors, but individual graves therein — with perhaps some exceptions — do not. The POW/MIA display in the Navy’s “largest overseas medical facility” was set up in the “public Galley”. Although the word “galley” in the Navy denotes a ship’s kitchen, the word “public” strongly suggests an area open to the general public, perhaps a dining area similar in function to a VAMC canteen. (Wiktionary’s “Glossary of U.S. Navy Slang” notes that “galley” can also refer to a “dining area”.)

    Just sayin’.

    SIGNED — USCG vet and VAMC retiree

  • Mikey Weinstein is a former JAG officer and is not against any particular religious belief.

  • Why not include the holy books of a variety of religions important to US military personnel, including the Bible? As a Christian, I see no problem with that. There’s probably not enough room for all of them, but maybe the top six to eight could be included. Secularists could include a book if they could agree on one.

  • This atheist responds, “of course.” But the some of the so called Christians that post on these very pages are very insecure in their faith, and so, anyone who doesn’t agree with them is a liberal, a Democrat,a god hater, a cultist, a…a…a…

    Well, you get the point.

  • Good idea. But lets simplify it so the table is not overloaded with big thick religious books. How about a framed sign or artistic picture that just show symbols of many different faiths – Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, etc. What I would like for it to indicate is that a person’s faith will be respected, regardless of the faith.

  • Whether the command structure is endorsing one religion, many religions or no religion, MRRF’s nomenclature is not consistent with their declared complaint. I think that’s pretty obvious. My right and power before God to own my personal opinion is precisely that…Mine, as is yours with or without God. It’s called freedom of conscience, I know that’s less and less of an option in Britain and other parts of Europe and it’s barely on life support here in the States. My owning that right and power does not diminish anyone else’s. Nor when there is a conflict does it require an act on someone’s part. It’s called agreeing to disagree.

  • What if a devout Hindu requested the Command Base in Okinawa to also include the Gita and the Ramayana which are their Holy Books? Will the evangelical Christians allow? Instead of religious books place the words PEACE, COMPASSION, NON-VIOLENCE, LOVE, HOPE,CHARITY, KINDNESS and all such positive words on the table which everyone, religious or atheists or non-believers would understand. Americans are becoming too bigotted and they think only Christians can go to Heaven, if there is such a place or to Hell. Americans who call themselves ‘Christians’ prefer to walk with an assault rifle or a gun or a pistol in their hands rather than carry the placards of peace and compassion etc. Let’s not forge that it was the Americans who slaughtered the native Indians by the thousands,bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in WWII and it was the Americans who first attacked and killed many Vietnamese. They were the ones to attack Afghanistan and cause bloodshed . At least the Russians didn’t do that. Americans, for all their love for the Bible, also love violence equally. It’s in their DNA.

  • You know sh*t from Shinola about Judaism. And what about others who are MIA. Natuarall, they don’t count.

  • The family of the dead decide what marker to put on the individual graves. It is not always a cross or star.

  • No – you cannot have a “right and power before God” if you cannot demonstrate the existence of God.

    You have the right to believe what you will – including that God exists but I question that it is a right “before God”. Surely – if the object that validates your “right” cannot be validated the “right” , like the “God” is opinion.

  • Any Muslim has already swore an oath to protect and defend their ideology. Serious conflict of interest is present by doing both!

  • Get lost! When I was in the army those things were not talked about at all, since we had better things to do.

  • Excuse me? Christians are hated because man by nature hates God his maker and anybody who is in Christ! But you do not understand these things, for you are a natural man. 1 Cor, 2: 14.

  • Before that happens you are gone also to your destined place, except you repent! Luke 13 :1-5.

  • You guys know it ALL! But you probably do not know that the wisdom of the world is foolishness by God. 1 Cor, 3 : 19.

  • I already know the truth that god is a myth, religion is a scam using shame, guilt, fear, threats and warnings. Just like you did here. Shove your stupid, baseless threats up your stupid, religious kook azz.

  • Your reply speaks for itself, proving what enmity dwells in you against God and His people. You don’t believe in God but in Satan for he makes you to spit out his hatred against anyone who opposes him. You have never met my, If you could you would kill me. But Christ can forgive you regardless.

  • Am I correct in assuming that you follow your holy book to the letter?
    I asking because you are speaking to a female veteran and I know that your book would frown heavily upon this as I’m unmarried and educated and not living under the mandates of my father.

  • I do not agree with your reasoning, your sense of what constitutes proof of God differs markedly from my own, and who is to be the referee between us. We are in a circular argument with no resolution as neither of us is apt to be moved.

  • My mistake. My favorite author, Mark Twain, when confronted with that which he could not wrap his mind around, would declare, “That is too many for me.” In this instance, I meant to declare that your ‘logic’ was too many for me. However, it is not a declaration that I surrender to such ‘logic.’ Primarily because I don’t agree that it proves your argument. Cheers.

  • “Primarily because I don’t agree that it proves your argument.”

    I didn’t think you would.

    We have differing views of what constitutes proof – at least one of us has got it wrong.

    PS – my favourite author created many characters major and minor. One of my favourites is Zorgo – the retro-phrenologist.

  • I can’t argue with your third sentence. On that we can agree. I’m not familiar with the character you cited. The Author?

  • Terry Pratchett – Zorgo is a (very) minor character in “Men at Arms”

    Not sure how well TP crosses the sea. He tends to polarise readers – some of us think he’s both hilarious and insightful; others don’t get his work at all.

    “If lumps and bumps on the head can be used to tell the characteristics of an individual then, logically, if you cause lumps and bumps on the head (by subtly whacking it with a graded series of mallets) you will develop that aspect of someone’s character.”
    Either that creates a mental image that tickles your sense of humour or it doesn’t, it would be a boring world if we were all alike wouldn’t it!

  • Thank you for the reply. Eccentricities in an author often play better at home than abroad.

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