- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Missouri National Guard received a letter on Monday from the lawyers with the American Humanist Association over Gideon Bibles made available to new recruits.

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center’s threat of legal action stems from a complaint made by a newly enlisted serviceman. The client, who has not been identified, felt pressured by Bibles on a shelf within the St. Louis Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

“I was not approached by anyone with the literature, though it was quite prominently displayed on the shelf,” the client says of his experience, Army Times reported Thursday. Lawyers with AHA, an organization that believes people can do “good without God,” stated that “the government is violating the First Amendment by assisting in the distribution of Gideon Bibles to military recruits.”

The atheist group wants a plan presented by the Missouri National Guard within two weeks to address its concerns and “avoid legal action,” Army Times reported.

Christine Parker, a spokeswoman for U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, told the Army Times that “nonfederal entities” may distribute materials in their offices at the discretion of the location’s commander. She told the paper that “the government wasn’t offering [the Bibles]. They may have been present, but we weren’t offering them, because that would be against our policy.”

The Office of the Secretary of Defense followed up on that sentiment with a statement on Wednesday.

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“Non-Federal entities may request and when authorized in writing by the unit commander may place secular or religious literature for use (including, but not limited to, Bibles, pamphlets, tracts, and texts) in a location on the base or recruiting station designated by the commander,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen. “In this particular case, guidance is provided by Army Regulation 165-1 which allows for the display of religious materials, including Bibles,” he added, Army Times reported.

Monica Miller, the client’s lawyer, said that if the St. Louis MEPS is striving for an open forum, then officials “have to really make known that there is one,” Army Times reported. Her client added in AHA’s letter to the Missouri National Guard that “those Bibles would not be there if a prejudice didn’t exist.”

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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