Written by Don Byrd

A table devoted to the memory of POW and MIA service members at a Wyoming Air Force base has become the center of a church-state controversy that demonstrates just how tough it can be for government to sponsor a religious display, even when it tries to do so in a way that is thoughtful and inclusive. Officials at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base near Cheyenne responded powerfully to a complaint bought by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) about the placement of a Christian Bible on a memorial table display, removing the text and vowing to “ensur[e] the religious and nonreligious [Airmen] feel included and cared for.” 

What they plan to put in its place, however, is generating opposition as well. Religion News Service’s Mary Beth McCauley reports:

A replacement “book of faith” is in the works that will feature teachings from five religious traditions and include blank pages representing nonbelief. Alternate religious texts, including the Torah and the Book of Mormon, are being rotated… until the interfaith book becomes available.

The Family Research Council, a conservative faith-based advocacy group, is asking via petition that Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson restore the Bible at Warren Air Force Base. The FRC said the generic book is “an affront … to the very real faith that sustained many of our heroic POW/MIA warriors.”

“The commander made a big boo-boo when she substituted another book,” said [Chris] Gacek, [FRC senior fellow for regulatory affairs]. Creating the interfaith book could be seen as violating the First Amendment by demonstrating government bias in favoring one kind of religious content over another and establishing a preferred religion — or in this case, many religions.

MRFF President Mikey Weinstein insists that such displays should either have a blank text, the interfaith text, or no religious text at all.