The Freedom From Religion Foundation isn’t objecting to bedbugs, nor is it objecting to stained bedsheets. But when it found out a lodge owned by the University of Wisconsin had Bibles in its rooms, all hell broke loose.
“We atheists and agnostics do not appreciate paying high prices for lodging, only to find Gideon Bibles in our hotel rooms, sometimes prominently displayed, knowing they contain instructions, for instance, to kill ‘infidels’ and ‘blasphemers,’ among other primitive and dangerous teachings,” FFRF Co-President Dan Barker said in a statement.
The organization of atheists, agnostics and “free-thinkers” got their sheets shorted when they discovered Gideon Bibles had been placed in rooms at Lowell Center, a lodge owned by the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Madison.
The Bibles were a gift from Gideons International, an evangelical Christian organization founded in 1899 whose primary ministry is to distribute free copies of the Bible.
The FFRF said a lodge guest recently complained that they had “encountered” a Bible in their room. Oh, the horror! The unidentified guest was apparently terrified by the presence of the Holy Bible and with trembling fingers contacted the FFRF.
Righteously indignant attorney Patrick Elliott accused the university of violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
“When a government entity like the Lowell Center allows a distribution of religious material to visitors, it has unconstitutionally entangled itself with a religious message, in this case a Christian message,” Elliott said in a statement.
Elliott said the Bibles alienate “non-Christian guests whose religious beliefs are inconsistent with the message being promoted by the Bibles.”
So does that mean the university’s diner should stop making cheeseburgers, lest they offend vegans?
And I’m beginning to wonder if the FFRF is afraid the Bible might lead to some sort of armed conflict pitting the Baptists and the Methodists against the so-called free-thinkers?
“As you may know, the mission of the Gideons is to ‘win the lost for Christ,’” the FFRF's attorney wrote in a letter to the university. “The Gideon’s [sic] efforts to proselytize have frequently brought about conflict with non-religious persons and persons from minority faiths.”
I checked Google, and to the best of their search engine, there have been no religious wars fought in the name of Gideons International.
It’s quite astonishing that a group of educated individuals are so frightened by the Good Book. There’s really nothing to be afraid of. There have been no confirmed reports of conversion through osmosis. It’s not like the atheists and agnostics are going to spontaneously combust upon reading the Gospel of John.
Nevertheless, the University of Wisconsin immediately complied with the FFRF’s demands and removed the Bibles from every guest room – 137 in all.
The university released a statement to Madison.com acknowledging the Bible-cleansing of the rooms.
“We reviewed the concern raised about the placement of Bibles in our guest rooms and decided to remove them,” said Bill Mann, director of Extension conference centers. “We want to make sure all guests are comfortable in our lodging.
Hiram Sasser, director of litigation for Liberty Institute, told me the university is engaging in “unlawful viewpoint discrimination and demonstrating complete hostility toward religious freedom.”
“They are treating the Bible like its contraband,” Sasser said. “The law is clear; once the university allowed the Gideons to place the Bibles, the university cannot now ban the Bibles because of their religious message.”
So what happened to all those contraband Bibles? Were they tossed in a Dumpster? Did they burn the books?
I called the University of Wisconsin’s spokeswoman and she assured me they did not incinerate the Word of God.
Instead, the books were hidden behind the hotel’s registration counter. The books are made available only upon request. Much like how a convenience store sells nudie magazines – behind the counter, wrapped in brown paper, lest someone be offended.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.