DEKALB, Ill. (Christian Examiner) – After feeling shocked and offended by the presence of a Bible in their hotel room, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent a letter demanding the hotel remove the Bibles on the basis of "proselytization"—to which the hotel complied.
Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) Jay Sekulow finds the atheist foundation's claims both unconstitutional and "absurd."
"Apparently, Gideon Bibles resting in hotel table drawers are just too much to bear for the self-proclaimed freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics at FFRF," Sekulow wrote on the ACLJ law blog.
While visiting Northern Illinois University to give a speech, co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor stayed at the Holmes Student Center Hotel with her husband co-president Dan Barker, where they discovered a Gideon Bible in their room.
"Nonreligious hotel guests should not have to pay to be proselytized in the privacy of their own bedrooms," Gaylor said, according to a news release from FFRF. "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."
Soon afterward, FFRF legal counsel sent a letter informing the NIU hotel the presence of the Bibles was unconstitutional.
"Who knew a closed Bible's mere presence qualified as proselytizing," Sekulow comments.
The letter stated: "Providing bibles to Holmes Student Center Hotel guests sends the message that NIU endorses the religious texts. 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."
Sekulow observed, "Once again, the FFRF seems to forget not only the meaning of the Constitution, but also the meaning of words such as 'proselytizing.'"
NIU removed the Bibles, as did the University of Wisconsin and the University of Iowa after receiving similar letters.
Sekulow says FFRF is "simply wrong" according to the law, recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled adults "should be able to withstand 'speech they find disagreeable' without imagining that the Establishment Clause is violated every time they 'experience a sense of affront from the expression of contrary religious views.'" Rather, the removal of the Bibles creates a climate of hostility toward religion that does not uphold the spirit of the law.
Outraged at the atheists' boldness and lack of common sense, Sekulow says the Bibles cannot possibly be construed as proselytization, comparing them rather to coupons left by a local business, which hotel patrons choose whether or not to use.
"There is no coercion. There is no proselytizing happening here," Sekulow said. "Instead, it's once again clear that those holding themselves out to be freethinkers are threatening smaller institutions with constitutional claims that would fall flat in court. FFRF is in the business of making threats because they know that any time they go to court, they always lose."
At the end of its news release, FFRF provides a link to the purchase of "Bible Warning Labels," which boast a skull and crossbones and the text: "Warning: Literal Belief in this book may endanger your health and life." It is an implicit encouragement to atheists to vandalize Bibles by placing these stickers on the cover.
"Absurd," Sekulow said.