A Christian legal group has contacted two public universities, encouraging them to replace the Gideon Bibles in their university hotel rooms after they removed them at the request of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal nonprofit group, sent letters to the University of Wisconsin and Iowa State University, advising that they place the Bibles back in their university hotel rooms. The universities removed the Bibles last month after receiving complaints from FFRF, a national atheist group, which alleged that the Bibles were a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause because they served as religious endorsement at a public university. FFRF called the Bible placement "unwelcome religious propaganda in the bedside table."
The recent letter sent by Alliance Defending Freedom argues, however, that FFRF's argument is flawed and the schools could actually be at liability for religious discrimination for removing the Bibles. "In reality, the First Amendment does not require you to remove these Bibles, and by removing them, you may have demonstrated the very viewpoint discrimination and hostility towards religion that the First Amendment prohibits," the letter from ADF reads.
"... by succumbing to FFRF's demands, you may have exposed yourself ... to potential liability. Presumably, your guest rooms include a variety of printed materials, including magazines, phone books, and information about the campus and guest facility," the letter continued. "By removing the Bibles because they are religious, you may have engaged in viewpoint discrimination, which is 'an egregious form of content discrimination' and a 'blatant' violation of the First Amendment."
When FFRF issued its original letter to the universities, the group's staff attorney, Patrick Elliot, said in a statement that state-run schools must remain neutral to religion. "While private hotels may choose to put any type of literature they want in their guest rooms, state-run colleges have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion."
But ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham contended in a statement that public universities must accommodate religious freedom, rather than purge their campus of all religious expression.
"Public universities, which are the marketplaces of ideas, should understand that the First Amendment does not require them to purge something from campus just because it happens to be religious. Rather, the Constitution requires them to accommodate religion," Barham said. "The Bibles can legitimately stay because their presence in guest rooms is simply a discrete way of accommodating the needs of traveling guests. They are in no way a government promotion of religion."