Military Religious Freedom Foundation Throws Fit Over Bible Included in POW/MIA Display

This Bible in a POW/MIA display at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa was the impetus for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s complaint with the Navy.
This Bible in a POW/MIA display at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa was the impetus for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s complaint with the Navy. (Photo courtesy of MRFF)

Navy officials are investigating complaints about the placement of a Bible in a public display about POW/MIAs at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, the service's largest overseas medical facility.

The investigation, opened Friday (April 6), follows the filing of a complaint by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit established to promote religious freedom in the U.S. military.

The complaint was brought on behalf of 26 military families on the Japanese island of Okinawa, the majority of them Christian, according to the foundation. They hold that the religiosity of the display violates the Constitution, in particular the First Amendment clause that prohibits government establishment of religion.

The complaint reads in part:

"The issue here is that by including a Bible as part of the POW/MIA display in the public galley, it signifies two things. First, that this is an official, command-endorsed display. Second, that the command is endorsing Christianity (versus other major religions or non-religious beliefs) as expressed in the Christian Bible to the total exclusion of any other belief systems or non-belief traditions."

Foundation president Mikey Weinstein said he also was concerned about a placard on the display, in Japanese and English, which read in part, "The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded one nation under God."

A Bible and similar language were suggested in the Navy's official blog in 2014 for display tables honoring prisoners of war and military members missing in action. But Weinstein said the placard's wording and its translation into Japanese amounts to evangelization. "We're having our lawyers look at whether or not this violates the Status of Forces Agreement, or the treaty we have with Japan," he said.

"Christianity gets no special treatment in the eyes of the law," he added.

But Mark Stephensen, vice chairman of the National League of POW/MIA Families, disagrees with the MRFF, saying there was "no bias intended" in placing a Bible on a "Missing Man" table.

"The Bible was always intended to be there," said Stephensen, of Boise, Idaho. "The POWs held in Hanoi vehemently turned to God for comfort and safety and persistence."

The remains of Stephensen's father, U.S. Air Force Col. Mark Stephensen, were returned from Vietnam 21 years after the aircraft he was piloting went down.

"I don't see where the harm is," Stephensen added. "If somebody's going to take offense to it, they're making a conscious effort to be offended."

Asked about the POW/MIA group's position, Weinstein said the American Legion does not require a Bible at its "Missing Man" displays, though some legion posts suggest its inclusion.

© 2018 Religion News Service. All rights reserved.

To contact us or to submit an article, click here.

Get Charisma's best content delivered right to your inbox! Never miss a big news story again. Click here to subscribe to the Charisma News newsletter.

It's a NEW YEAR! Get ready for a NEW YOU!

  • New Year Discounts On Book Bundles & Gifts: Click Here to view all our bundles and save up to 72%! Prayer, Holy Spirit, Anointing, the Supernatural and more.
  • Go Deeper with God in a FREE eCourse: Click Here to view all eight of our free courses. Topics include Fear, Forgiveness, Holy Spirit, Supernatural, and How to Hear God.
  • Anointed Woman Of God: Rise up and enter the anointing of Deborah, Anna, Esther, Ruth and Hannah. You were called to go higher. Click Here to learn more.
  • Never Stop Praying - Prayer Changes Everything! John Eckhardt's prayer bundle gives you six powerful books to help you pray and change any situation. Click Here.
  • New Year - New You - Bible Sale!: Click Here to save up to 50% off a great selection of Bibles. Plus, get a free gift with each order!

Subscription Special: Subscribe to Charisma for two years for Only $29.97 and get two free gifts. Gift #1 The Harbinger. Gift #2 The Harbinger II. Both books are by New York Times Best-Selling author Jonathan Cahn. View Offer

Charisma News - Informing believers with news from a Spirit-filled perspective