(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Matthew Jurgens)
The Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County, Fla., is currently embroiled in controversy after a Bible honoring missing soldiers and prisoners of war was removed from one of the base's dining halls earlier this month.
The Bible was a part of a "Missing Man Table," a tradition in the U.S. Armed Forces meant to honor servicemen who did not return from combat, either because they are missing or prisoners of war. The vacant table is set up in some Armed Forces' dining halls in the U.S., and includes a plain white table cloth, an inverted glass, a single red rose, a yellow ribbon, a candle, a plate with lemon and salt, and a Bible.
The purpose of the Bible is to "[represent] the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God," according to the Air Force Chiefs website.
Family Research Council pointed out the irony of the controversy.
"Of particular irony is the fact that this reversal of a long history of including such memorials in dining halls occurred at the same installation where the Department of Defense's equal opportunity agency - the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute - is housed," FRC said. "DEOMI is tasked with training military Equal Opportunity (EO) advisers on how to instill respect and tolerance for diverse viewpoints in service members. Apparently, that respect and tolerance isn't supposed to extend to religious speech or the ability of an organization to recognize the role religious faith has played in the lives of many service members."
According to Florida Today, a dispute over the Bible's presence at the Missing Man Table at Patrick Air Force Base's Riverside Dining Facility caused commanders to remove the table from the dining hall. Authorities at the Air Force Base then released a statement to the local media outlet late last week saying that the table would return to the dining facility, although they were unclear if the Bible would be a part of the Missing Man display.
"The 45th Space Wing deeply desires to honor America's Prisoners and War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) personnel. Unfortunately, the Bible's presence or absence on the table at the Riverside Dining Facility ignited controversy and division, distracting from the table's primary purpose of honoring POWs/MIAs," the statement read.
"Consequently, we temporarily replaced the table with the POW/MIA flag in an effort to show our continued support of these heroes while seeking an acceptable solution to the controversy. After consultation with several relevant organizations, we now intend to re-introduce the POW/MIA table in a manner inclusive of all POWs/MIAs as well as Americans everywhere."
News of this most recent incident regarding religious freedom comes after the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., reportedly asked a cadet to erase a Bible verse from the whiteboard that hung outside of his dorm room. The decision prompted outrage from religious freedom groups like the Liberty Institute and the Family Research Council. Although the cadet was not punished for writing the biblical message, Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has called for the student to be "visibly punished" so others won't follow his example.