Legal opinions clash over Gideon Bibles in hotels on public grounds, such as publicly funded universities
A pro-atheism legal group that recently got the University of Wisconsin-Madison to remove Gideon Bibles from campus overnight guest rooms has now targeted Iowa State University, sending a legal demand to campus administrators asking them to remove Gideon Bibles from their hotel rooms as well.
“Gideon Bibles should not be in any public university guest room,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in an interview with The College Fix. “It’s unconstitutional, it’s inappropriate, it’s proselytizing for there to be Bibles in any publicly funded lodges.”
A complaint by the foundation prompted the removal of all Bibles from nearly 150 overnight guest rooms inside a large conference center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in December.
On Jan. 29, the foundation sent a similar letter to Iowa State, demanding its officials remove Gideon Bibles from its overnight guest accommodations, claiming the Bibles represent the university’s endorsement and promotion of Christianity.
“Recently, the University of Wisconsin … removed all Bibles from its Lowell Center guest rooms in an effort to remain neutral toward religion,” the letter states. “We request that Iowa State University follow suit by immediately removing Bibles from each guest room.”
Gaylor said the letter was prompted by a complaint, and her foundation will take this issue on on behalf of others at any publicly funded university across the nation that has Bibles in its guest rooms.
She said the Freedom From Religion Foundation has, in the past, been successful at getting other public universities to remove its hotel room Bibles, but added the tide has turned in her foundation’s favor.
“Times have changed,” Gaylor said. “And this is a very ripe time to follow up on anything. But we have to know they are there. Someone has to complain.”
In a statement to The College Fix, Iowa State spokeswoman Annette Hacker said the Gideon Bibles were placed in the Hotel Memorial Union rooms about 15 years ago, and until 2003, the Memorial Union was organized as a private, nonprofit corporation. The university assumed ownership of the union in 2003.
“There are 52 rooms in the Hotel Memorial Union,” Hacker said in an email. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time there’s been a concern related to Bibles in the guestrooms. The university is taking this concern under advisement.”
At least one attorney says the university has done absolutely nothing wrong.
“The simple fact is no court has ever ruled that universities can’t allow groups like Gideon to come in and place bibles in hotel rooms,” Travis Barham, an attorney for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, said in an interview with The College Fix. “There is no grounds for removing these bibles. … All these universities are trying to do is accommodate religion, which is a valid thing to do under the law.”
Barham cited a 1997 federal court ruling regarding prayer at universities that stated “the people of the United States did not adopt the Bill of Rights to strip the public square of every last shred of public piety.”
“That is what the Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to do, but that is not what the First Amendment requires us to do,” he said.
Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.
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