Bibles Removed, Quickly Replaced From State-Owned Lodges

May 15, 2013 12:29 pm

by Mike Hassinger · 73 comments

A mid-week Constitutional debate for everyone has begun with Paul Yates’ reporting at FOX5 Atlanta, that due to a “citizen’s concern,” Bibles were ordered removed from Georgia-owned lodges and guest houses at State parks.

The Augusta Chronicle has additional details here. And Jim Galloway reports that Governor Nathan Deal will seek to get those bibles put back into state-owned facilities: “It is our intention, based on the guidance that we will be given by the attorney general, to replace those Bibles in those facilities. I think it will happen rather quickly.”

We have to assume that these Bibles were not purchased with tax dollars, so please, ACLU members and Libertarians, is there really a First Amendment separation issue here? And if so, please reconcile that issue with the First Amendment rights of Gideons International.

UPDATE, just for griftdrift and mpierce: Kathleen Baydala Joyner at ATL LAW Blog got this quotation: “Georgia State Constitutional Law professor L. Lynn Hogue said having donated religious books in state park cabins and lodges does not present a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, unless the state parks were soliciting them.

“If the Gideons volunteered them, and the state-owned inns allowed them to be put in the rooms, that presents no Establishment Clause problem,” Hogue said via email.”

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 12:41 pm

It’s not like the State of Georgia is forcing guests to read the Bible. Should they be required to block TBN and other religious TV stations just in case somebody is flipping through the channels and comes across one of them?

I have stayed in numerous State Park cabins all across this state and the Bibles were Gideons. Much like a hotel room, they were not prominently displayed. Instead, they were in a bed side drawer or on a nightstand shelf. I did find it one time in a drawer in the bathroom, though.

Doug Craig May 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Then all people should have a chance to place literature in the room.

Baker May 15, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Once the cat’s out of the bag on this stuff, that’s it. I’d like to think the Bibles will be put back and people will go on, but the ACLU undoubtedly feels differently. If some Hindu version of the Gideons popped up and wanted to get theirs in there too, I’m fine with it, methinks the courts won’t be.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I think that this is a little different. In a lot of the other cases, the plaintiff felt like they were compelled to participate in a religious activity. A Bible has a front cover and a back cover. If you don’t want to read it, don’t. Libraries all across Georgia have Bibles, Korans, and other religious writings on their shelves. They even have books and writings from agnostics and atheists. I’m not compelled by the State to read them, though.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Do these government lodges also have Korans, agnostic writings, atheist writings, etc?

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm

My point is that the State of Georgia is in no way compelling people to read the Bible. I read portions of the Koran at Georgia Southern University in an English class. I didn’t go out running from the classroom and crying that the State was forcing me to Islam. I also read agnostic and atheistic writings and I was ok.

If you do not want to read the Bible, don’t read it. No one is forcing you to do it.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm

My point is that it is perceived as an endorsement of religion regardless of whether or not people are compelled to read it. If libraries didn’t carry other religious materials that too would be at issue.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Being compelled is the legal basis for most of the lawsuits about the government and religion. The State of Georgia is not endorsing a religion by allowing an outside group to put a Bible in the room. I guarantee you that Attorney General Sam Olens has looked at Federal and State laws in making this decision.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm

O’Connor – “The purpose prong of the Lemon test asks whether government’s actual purpose is to endorse or disapprove of religion. The effect prong asks whether, irrespective of government’s actual purpose, the practice under review in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval. An affirmative answer to either question should render the challenged practice invalid.”

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm

The Lemon test deals with Government laws, acts, legislation, etc. that are created that may provide an advantage to a religious institution, sect, etc. As far as I am aware, Georgia does not require the Bibles to be in the guest rooms.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Lemon was applied in County of Allegheny v. ACLU. As far as I am aware, PA does not require creches in courthouses.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Why do they have to be in the rooms? Why not available for request as was do ne?

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Is it that difficult to be in the same room with a Bible?

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I suppose you would be fine with the Satanic Bible being placed next to it?

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm

First of all, that is an extremely weak argument.

Second, I would probably read the Satanic Bible out of curiosity, but that is my choice. As I said earlier, I have read portions of the Koran, agnostic and atheistic writings, books on Satanism, etc. I am not threatened by a closed book in a drawer or on a shelf.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm

It was just as much an honest question as an argument. There are many who would be outraged by it.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I am a strong proponent of the 1st Amendment, so I don’t mind protests or displays or writings by people that differ from me. I am a Republican, but I have stood strong for the rights of other people of other parties (or lack thereof). I read and listen to a lot of different viewpoints, as I like to hear all the different angles to help me make decisions. It is just extremely difficult when I see certain groups excluded because of religion.

I honestly cannot see the reason for outrage here, though.

Doug Craig May 16, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Is any government resources being used to place the bible there?

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

No Lawton. I’ve been in rooms with them my entire life. But you didn’t answer my question.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

In your scenario, you are involving a State employee in handing out a Bible. In this particular case, Gideons, an outside group, placed them in the room. To me, your scenario would be construed more as the State being involved than the current situation. The Gideons are responsible now for maintenance of the Bibles, replacements, etc.

I know the Mormon Missionaries (Church of Latter Day Saints) were at one point also putting the Book of Mormon in hotel rooms. I do not know of any other groups that were doing the same.

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I’m leaning Lawton’s way on this one. These Bibles aren’t “displayed” as the various 10 Commandments monuments and plaques were -they’re inside a drawer. Gideon puts them there, and Gideon Int’l has as much right to speech as anyone else -are we arguing establishment or are we arguing speech?

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm

It’s not a speech issue. It’s an establishment issue.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Is it establishment, though, when there is not a requirement (law, policy, act) or a compelling by the State to act in a certain way?

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I’ll bet the Gideons say otherwise…

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

The Gideons are not allowed to walk into your room and deliver a sermon either. It’s not a speech issue.

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I’m going to argue that being inside a drawer in your room is different than being in your room. Having Bibles available “upon request” turns the hotel clerk (a state employee) into an “agent,” and creates an establishment issue. The Westboro a-holes are protected in public spaces (sidewalks, roads) while shouting their filth. If a Bible is in a drawer, the hotel guest must actually open the drawer to get to it, and has to choose to be exposed to it. No such option available for people attending veterans’ funerals.
Go ahead, call me a reactionary.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Reactionary

And as I explained above, having the state worker hand the book out is no different than a librarian. The action is on the requestor. Not the state agent.

Let me ask my question a different way.

It would seem reasonable compromise to me to have the book available for anyone who request it.

Why does it have to be in the room?

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

SNYDER v. PHELPS – “Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service.”

They could put their Bibles on sidewalks down the road.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 3:08 pm

The State does not have audio of the Bible being read in the guest rooms. It does not put Bible verses, scripture, even the 10 commandments up in the guest rooms. It allowed an outside group to place a Bible in a place where it is neither displayed nor prominent.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Agreed on the audio, but I wasn’t the one bring Westboro into the discussion. Westboro was free speech, but this is establishment.

Bible in a place where it is neither displayed nor prominent.

I guess that depends on where it is reasonable to expect a guess to use the drawer for storage. If you put a sign on the toilet and left the door closed, would you not consider it displayed because you don’t have to use the bathroom?

Ken May 20, 2013 at 12:41 pm

grift,

It would seem reasonable compromise to me to have the book available for anyone who request it.

Why does it have to be in the room?

Who would then deliver the Bible? Or stock the Bibles? Who would retrieve the Bible if it is left in a room?

Certainly not a state employee; I’m pretty sure that might cross the line in your eyes. It would also be an undue burden on the members of Gideons International who are volunteers if they were expected to deliver Bibles like pizzas.

It seems that allowing the Bibles in desk or nightstand drawers might actually be the compromise.

By the way, if someone were to keep a set of the world’s greatest books at state lodges, then it might increase attendance – and I would include the Bible among that list.

griftdrift May 20, 2013 at 1:38 pm

“I’m pretty sure that might cross the line in your eyes”

It would not.

As I have said.

Twice.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

“In your scenario, you are involving a State employee in handing out a Bible.”

Incorrect implication from a legal perspective. It’s not different from a librarian handing out a book. Also an agent of the state. The action is on the requestor. Not the agent of the state.

Now.

I’ll ask one more time.

Why do they have to be in the room?

Or is your answer “to avoid state entanglement”?

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

And it is thus the action of the guest whether to read or not. It is not prominently displayed nor is there a compelling force for it to be read.

Back to your question, though. I’m not avoiding your question. In a logical debate, it is important to look at the inverse of the question/statement. Thus, I would ask why someone could not request for a Bible to be removed from the room before they occupy it or why can’t they be in the room? I don’t know if there is a logical and definitive answer for the first part. They both put the burden on the guest to either ask for it to be there or ask for it not to be there, thus we are essentially arguing the same point.

For the second part, I don’t know of anything that would prohibit them from being there if they are placed by a non-Government citizen, group, etc. The State did not put them there. The State of Georgia is not requiring them to be in the room, so they do not have to be in there, but they saying that they can be in there. There is no one compelling the guest to read it, listen, etc. It is simply available.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Still didn’t really answer my question.

It would be available if it were at the front desk too.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I am trying. Can you answer the question: “Why can’t it be in the room?” Neither question is easy to answer. I can put toilet paper in the attic, but it is more convenient next to the toilet for those that desire to use it. Nobody has to use the toilet paper, though, but it is provided for those that want to use it.

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm

My reply to grift got shoved all the way to the bottom of this thread -but here’s my attempt to answer his question: The drawer IS the reasonable compromise. Guest has to seek it out to get hold of it. It’s not “displayed” as were 10 Commandments plaques or Nativity scenes at courthouses, AND it doesn’t involve a “state agent” in any way. What’s unreasonable about that?

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

“mpierce May 15, 2013 at 3:03 pm
SNYDER v. PHELPS – “Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service.”
They could put their Bibles on sidewalks down the road.”

-And the Gideons put their Bibles in DRAWERS in the hotel rooms. Much less “in your face” than Westboro shouting at mourners. If that’s your standard, I think the Gideons win.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

See my reply below.

And the Gideons are much different than Westboro.

Gideons try to bring people into the flock not drive them away.

And believe me, if this ever does go to a court challenge, the court will most definitely look at the purpose and mission behind the bibles.

The reasonable thing in my mind is for the state to get out of it all together.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Guest has to seek it out to get hold of it.

Or the guest could simply be looking for a place to put his keys.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I’ll play

Why can’t it be in the room?

Because it not being in the room avoids all entanglement. Instead of putting it in a confined space where the occupant has to consciously avoid it, place it where those have desire for its use can request it and those who don’t do not even know it exists.

Convenience is a strong argument though. Although, it makes me wonder about the difference between simply choosing not to read and simply choosing to walk to the front desk instead of opening a drawer.

Convenience seems to only go in one direction.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Cabins are typically a long distance (.5 mile to several miles) from the ranger’s office. Lodges are a different story. They are not typically connected like a hotel, but you have to walk outside to access the lodge office.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Terribly inconvenient. Would probably too difficult for a soul in need to overcome.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm

The ranger’s office closes at 5 p.m. as well. Lodge offices are open, though. But, back to my original question, is a Bible that offensive to most people. When I am offended by something I read or watch, I quit reading or watching.

mpierce May 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I suppose it would be too difficult to pack a bible if you are interesting in reading one.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

It’s not about something being offensive or having a sudden interest in reading the good book.

It’s also not about freedom of religion. Asking one group of people to simply ignore something so others can have their way is not about letting that group freely express their religion. It’s about allowing that group placing their expression in the other groups face.

I’ll put it plainly.

If your fishing, it works better if the hook is in the water instead of expecting the fish to crawl up on the bank and hook themselves.

That’s why the bibles have to be in the room.

Doug Craig May 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Does that matter

Chris Huttman May 15, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Why does Deal feel he has to speak out on this issue?

Three Jack May 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm

And miss a golden opportunity to get bible thumpers all wound up, no way. I can hear it now, ‘I put bibles in every room….’ as he campaigns for re-election.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm

The press conference was on Common Core. Though it is not stated in the article, I inferred that a question must have been asked of him, as there was no connection between the two and also that it appears he is responding to something:

“Our commissioner took that as a pre-emptive effort to try to avoid litigation. I’ve been in contact with our attorney general’s office. I do not favor the removal of Bibles from these public facilities in the state of Georgia.”

joe May 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm

My copy of the constitution says “Congress shall make no law…” The first amendment is a prohibition on congress, not on anybody else.

Napoleon May 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Joe. You can sit there and not believe that the 14th Amendment hasn’t incorporated the 1st to the states, but the Supreme Court has, in fact, incorporated it. Unless you can get SCOTUS to unincorporate the 1st through the 14th, it is the law of the land. I don’t see SCOTUS reversing direction any time soon.

joe May 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Dr. John Eastman, law professor at Chapman University, explains it much more eloquently than I can.

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/05/16/god-vs-govt-what-does-the-constitution-really-say-about-the-separation-of-church-and-state/

mpierce May 16, 2013 at 11:18 pm

For the sake of argument let’s say Eastman was right that “[The Founders] were concerned that with a strong national government there would be a national religion … they wanted to allow the states a free hand to collaborate [with] religion in their important work of fostering a citizenry.”

The founders also believed the Constitution could be changed. It was changed in 1868 with the 14th Amendment. SCOTUS has said the due process clause of the 14th applies the 1st Amendment to the states. Thus the founders original intent of the 1st Amendment only applying to the Federal govt would no longer be applicable.

drjay May 15, 2013 at 3:00 pm

i can’t read this thread without thinking of the song “rocky raccoon”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNRH7_Kd5Yc

Charlie May 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm

No one wants to ask the question why the state has to own and operate lodges?

**ducks**

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I was waiting for a libertarian to ask that question, but a RINO beat them to it.

seenbetrdayz May 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm

The libertarians were merely testing the RINOs.

Lawton Sack May 15, 2013 at 3:05 pm

The State of Georgia is asking that. They are experimenting with privatization at the moment:

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2013/may/02/georgia-privatizing-five-state-parks-upscale-lodge/

David Staples May 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Sorry, I’ve been kind of busy lately. Just hadn’t gotten there yet. I move Charlie’s question. :-)

Douglasville Dude May 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Second.

George Chidi May 15, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Amen.

pettifogger May 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm

If Georgia up and decided to put Bibles on tables at Georgia-owned facilities or something similar, I’d be opposed to it. The Gideon Bible thing, not so much. Why? Because it is a traditional American quirk that hasn’t harmed anyone, has some independent cultural/historic significance, and isn’t being expanded (at least to my knowledge).

I agree with the ACLU when they think high schools shouldn’t unnecessarily hold events in churches, even though that is unlikely to truly harm someone either. But it is an unnecessary “pushing of the envelope” by the state. I see that much differently than a cross monument on a rural road that has stood for 40 years as a war memorial. Outlawing stagnant religion/government overlaps is whitewashing history for no legitimate reason.

David Staples May 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

So here’s a few questions.

1. Who owns the Bible once it’s put in the room? Is it still the property of the Gideons or is it then state property?

2. Is anyone free to take the Bible with them? Could a guest keep the Bible? If not, are they stealing from the Gideons or from the state?

3. Is anyone free to go into the rooms (as the Gideons have done) and remove all of the Bibles? You know, free speech, access to premises and all?

Douglasville Dude May 15, 2013 at 5:11 pm

4. How do the bibles get in the rooms? Do the Gideons send a few cases to the lodge for housekeeping (state agent) to place? Do the Gideons actually go into each room to place them, after being let in by a state agent?

George Chidi May 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm

My non-Christian friends on Facebook are starting to organize a book drive for alternative texts to be donated to the lodges, just to see how the state behaves.

The Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Talmud, Christian apocrypha, the I Ching, Korans, the Book of Mormon, Dianetics, the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, SubGenius zines, the Illuminatus trilogy, the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, copies of Star Wars (for the itinerant Jedi among us), Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens’ works — the list goes on and on.

We’ll see how seriously we can take the state’s word about its willingness to place donated religious material in cabins.

griftdrift May 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm

+1 for Gardnerian

Harry May 15, 2013 at 6:37 pm

I wonder how some of you feel about high schools having Senior Baccalaureate services at local churches?

Rick Day May 16, 2013 at 11:29 am

Being the token religion mocker, I find myself late to this party.

1. There were a total of 9 Bibles in that one small lodge, many in the open (sorry, Mike; there goes your closeted Bibles argument). Yet you can divorce yourself totally from your religious feelings and don’t think there is a problem with this? As a citizen, I certainly would.

2. From the Gideon’s site: The purpose of the Gideons is, in their own words, to “win men, women, boys and girls to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” They exist solely to evangelize Christianity and convert people to Christianity. The state is benignly enabling a charity, through exclusive and selective messages, to create the equivalent of a sermon in your room. Businesses do the same; I find it ironic when Hindu families who own motels allow The Gideon’s in their rooms.

3. Someone decide who puts books on government property. That person is the agent of the state. This means that his actions are the State’s actions as well. There is no law forbidding or requiring this book in the cabins. Therefore it is policy to allow and foment this distribution from an unabashedly proselytic charity.

4. Most of your argument is based on “don’t read it” but you don’t understand the universal message of tying Christianity to the KJV, just seeing the cover triggers though on the subject. If it was not there, there would be no trigger. If I need a pencil or note pad, I’ll look in the damn drawers without being reminded that many think I’m destined for the Big Oven.

5. I don’t mind them in businesses because they make better bathroom reading than those stupid guides they put in rooms. It’s just a silly collection of silly myths; a futile guideline on how to lead an impossible life. Get over it.

Dave Bearse May 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

It’s unfortunate the complaint was made, but not unexpected in light of theocracy in politics. Ultimately I think the Bibles will be required to be removed.

The situation will be a winner for two wings of the GOP though. The Bible removal may be used to promote leasing the facilities allowing the Bibles to be returned, and it invigorates to the War on Religion crowd.

Mike Hassinger May 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm

It doesn’t HAVE to be in the room, any more than it HAS to be available at all. Inside a DRAWER is different than “in the room.” I think inside a DRAWER is the “reasonable compromise,” as opposed to on top of a table in the room, or on a shelf at the front desk.
Also, didn’t Snyder v Phelps give latitude to State/local authorities to create/regulate “free speech zones?”

Mike Stucka May 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm

I think an interesting test would be how the state would handle information from other religions. For example, if Albert showed up with a box of Korans, Bob showed up with a case of Bhagavad Gitas, Charlie showed up with a pile of Zen meditations, Dave showed up with the core philosophy of the Pastafarians? — would they all be put in the drawers? Or would the state pick and choose which information got supported? For that matter, what if Edward, Fred and George all showed up with different translations of the Bible than the Gideons distribute?

Deal’s statement suggests the state will take donations, but doesn’t say what would actually happen to those donations: “These Bibles are donated by outside groups, not paid for by the state, and I do not believe that a Bible in a bedside table drawer constitutes a state establishment of religion. In fact, any group is free to donate literature.”

If the state wouldn’t pick and choose, the drawer’s going to get full and the utility of the cabin decreases. If the state does pick and choose, doesn’t that put the government into establishing what religions are and aren’t valid? Is this the proper role of government?

Ken May 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Mike,

Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists was about the establishment of an official religion. For example Baptists (like those in Connecticut) fled Massachusetts because the Anglican Church was the official church. Everyone in the Bay Colony was forced to tithe to the Anglican Church, regardless of religious belief. That was a classic example of a state church.

We have moved so far from dealing with religion on that simple footing that the concept of allowing religious literature in a state-owned establishment is now a question. If someone is so offended by the presence of religious material that they refuse to stay in a state-owned lodge then perhaps they need to examine themselves for intolerance, not others.

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