Gideon Bibles Removed After Atheist Group Pressures U of Wisconsin

By Michael W. Chapman | January 17, 2014 | 1:15pm EST

Gideon Bible in hotel room desk drawer. (AP)

( –  The  University of Wisconsin-Extension has agreed to remove all Gideon Bibles from 137 guest rooms at its conference center after an atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), complained, arguing that the Bibles in the bedrooms constituted state endorsement of Christianity.

“After attempting to end the practice for several decades, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded University of Wisconsin-Extension in Madison to remove Gideon bibles from its 137 guest rooms,” the group said in a Jan. 15 statement. “In November, the complainant who encountered the bible at the Lowell Center on the UW-Madison campus complained to Madison-based FFRF, a state/church watchdog and the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists and agnostics).”

Back on Nov. 4, FFRF staff attorney Patrick C. Elliott sent a letter to Chancellor Ray Cross, head of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin-Extension. (See FFRF Letter.pdf)

In the letter, Elliott wrote,  “It is our understanding that guest rooms in the Lowell Center contain bibles from Gideons International. We were contacted by a concerned complainant who informs us that the bibles are in every guest room. We understand that the bibles include a statement noting that they were placed by Gideons International.”

Ray Cross, the chancellor of University of Wisconsin-Extension, who was appointed to be the UW System president on Jan. 9, 2014. (AP)

“It is a fundamental principle of Establishment Clause jurisprudence that a government entity cannot in any way promote, advance, or otherwise endorse religion,” said Elliott. “Permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms constitutes state endorsement and advancement of these Christian publications. Providing bibles to Lowell Center guests sends the message that the UW-Extension endorses the religious texts.”

“State-run colleges have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” said Elliott.

The letter went on to request that UW-Extension remove all Gideon Bibles from guest rooms in the Lowell Center and other university guest facilities, and to provide the FFRF with a written response on what actions were being taken to “remedy this constitutional violation.”

Chancellor Cross agreed to the FFRF’s demands.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the atheist organization, Chancellor Cross wrote,  “Thank you for sharing the complaint of a guest or visitor related to the placement of Gideon Bibles in the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Lowell Center guest rooms.”

“After carefully reviewing your concern, we have decided to remove the Gideon Bibles from all guest rooms,” said Cross. “They should be removed by December 1, 2013. Thank you for making us award [sic] of this concern."  (See Chancellor Letter.pdf)

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On its website, the Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself as follows:  “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion. In modern times the first to speak out for prison reform, for humane treatment of the mentally ill, for abolition of capital punishment, for women's right to vote, for death with dignity for the terminally ill, and for the right to choose contraception, sterilization and abortion have been freethinkers, just as they were the first to call for an end to slavery. The Foundation works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.”

The Gideons  International, founded in 1899, describes its mission as follows: “The mission of The Gideons International is to win the lost for Christ, and our unique method is the distribution of Bibles and New Testaments in selected streams of life. Gideons have placed or distributed more than 1.8 billion complete Bibles and New Testaments in more than 190 countries around the world . . . so far.”

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