Officials at Northern Illinois University have agreed to remove all Bibles from the guest rooms at their campus student center following a complaint from a prominent atheist activist organization.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) reports that it recently sent a letter to the university to assert that the presence of the Bibles was unconstitutional. Co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor and her husband Dan Barker discovered the Bibles while staying at the Holmes Student Center Hotel during a visit to the area to speak to a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance.
“Providing Bibles to Holmes Student Center Hotel guests sends the message that NIU endorses the religious texts,” the letter read. “Including Bibles sends the message to non-Christian and non-religious guests that they should read the Bible, and specifically the version of the Bible provided: the Gideon Bible.”
“Certainly, if guests want to read this religious text during their stay, they can bring their own copy or access any of the numerous churches or libraries near the university,” it said.
FRFF states that the day after the submission of the letter, Gregory Brady, deputy general counsel for governance and administration, replied to advise that the university “will be removing any such Bibles from their hotel guest rooms.”
“Nonreligious hotel guests should not have to pay to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms,” Gaylor asserted in a statement. “The Bible calls for killing nonbelievers, apostates, gays, ‘stubborn sons,’ and women who transgress biblical double standards. What’s obnoxious in a private hotel, however, becomes inappropriate and unconstitutional in state-run lodgings.”
Last year, the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University likewise removed all Bibles from campus guest rooms after FFRF complained about the matter.
But the religious liberties organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) asserted that the atheist group was wrong in their interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“[C]ontrary to what FFRF implied, the Establishment Clause does not require government entities to dissociate themselves from everything religious,” the letters continued. “Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly made it clear that the Constitution does not ‘require complete separation of church and state.’ Rather, it ‘affirmatively mandates accommodation, not merely tolerance, of all religions, and forbids hostility toward any.’”
ADF then warned that the universities, in heeding the advice of FFRF, could now be held liable for unlawful religious discrimination by generally allowing materials in hotel rooms while censoring anything of a religious viewpoint.
“[B]y succumbing to FFRF’s demands, you may have exposed yourself … to potential liability. Presumably, your guest rooms include a variety of printed materials, including magazines, phone books, and information about the campus and guest facility,” it explained. “By removing the Bibles because they are religious, you may have engaged in viewpoint discrimination, which is ‘an egregious form of content discrimination’ and a ‘blatant’ violation of the First Amendment.”