Air Force base removes Bible from POW display after complaint, sparking controversy

An undated photo of a POW display.

Ohio Republican Representative Mike Turner wrote an angry letter to the commander of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after the Bible was removed from a POW/MIA display in the hospital’s dining facility.

“It is simply unacceptable that (Wright-Patterson) personnel removed the Bible from the display, and I am concerned that similar efforts to restrict religious freedom may be made at other military installations,” Turner, R-Dayton, said in the April 13 letter to Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, commander of the Air Force Materiel Command headquartered at Wright-Patterson.

According to the Dayton Daily News, the Bible was removed last week after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation lodged a complaint. Since then, Turner has been on the offensive in regards to the situation.

In addition to being a congressman, Turner is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and has had several ties to the USAF, including roles in the USAF, UAV and Military Family Caucuses.

Turner feels that if the Bible is removed from the display, a slippery slope will follow that may endanger other religious relics at the US Air Force Museum, located at Wright-Patterson.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation -which cited constitutional qualms about the display of the Bible- said the group received 31 complaints, 10 of which were from people identified as Christians, according to Mikey Weinstein, MRFF founder and president.

“The letter is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” he told the Daily News. “He’s grandstanding in an election year, throwing red meat to the conservative electorate that’s out there.”

Despite criticism, Turner defended his stance on the letter.

“It’s a very dangerous precedent to have a group that has an issue campaign to effect policy on a government installation merely by complaining,” the congressman said. “Their voice should not be any greater than anyone else’s. This is an issue of national policy, not an issue of individual affront or concern, and it needs to be handled in that manner.”

Turner demands that the exact process leading to the decision to remove the religious text needs to be revealed.

Wright-Patterson installation commander Col. John M. Devillier made the decision to remove the Bible “after thoroughly assessing the situation,” Wright-Patterson spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in response to Daily News inquiries.

Weinstein dismissed the notion that museum artifacts would be on the chopping block, citing the entire notion as “ridiculous.”

“I guess he’s afraid that if they take that Christian Bible, which is clearly an example of elevating one particular faith over all others or no faith in violation of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment and (military regulations), that somehow the famous Air Force museum is going to lose many of its exhibits, which is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s a red herring.”

Air Force Materiel Command spokesman Ron Fry released a statement Wednesday that the US Air Force places a “high value of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religion or no religion at all,” citing also that museum artifacts are in no danger of removal due to that they are displayed in “historical context.”

In 2014, Gen. Mark Welsh told members of the House Armed Services committee that there was no war on religious liberty after a Bible was removed from a dining facility at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida

“The single biggest frustration I’ve had in this job is the perception that somehow there is religious persecution inside the United States Air Force,” the general told lawmakers. “It is not true.”

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) contradicted Welsh by saying the Air Force seems to be the worst offender when it comes to attacks on religious liberty.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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