- (Photo: AFP / Pool / File/Mark Wilson)
The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday that it will remove two nativity displays from dining halls at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base after some troops complained the displays were exclusively Christian.
Capt. J.R. Nettleton, commanding officer for the Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, said on Wednesday that he had decided to move the two nativity scenes from the base's dining halls to the courtyard of the base's chapel. Nettleton's decision comes after a day-long controversy when 18 service members at the base sent an email to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation regarding the nativity scenes.
"No one's ever complained to me about it. We've been doing it for 10 years," Nettleton told the Miami Herald, adding that he ultimately concluded the religious nature of the nativity scenes would be celebrated more appropriately in the base's chapel.
"The spirit of the Navy's policy on this is, if it's religious, it goes to the chapel," the captain said. "It's more appropriate there."
The two nativity scenes were reportedly erected in the dining halls in late November by foreign contractors who oversee the eating areas. Kelly Wirfel, a spokesperson for Nettleton, told the Associated Press that the displays were "not intended to endorse any religion," although some troop members took issue with the fact that only a nativity display was put up in the eating area and no other faith displays were represented.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation reportedly received an email from 18 service members at the base in southeastern Cuba stating their concern over the nativity display. The MRFF claims that the service members who complained were afraid to go to their superiors at the base because their complaints may receive retribution.
The email from the service members read, in part: "We come to you because Christian religious undertones have been shown from prominent members of the command team and we believe that our concern will be ignored and that there may be retributions if we attempt to hand this through the chain of command or Inspector General."
The email added that the service members have a tough job working on the Guantanamo Bay base, and when they do have down time to spend with their military family, they "should not have to feel uncomfortable, out of place, or insignificant because their beliefs are not represented."
Mikey Weinstein, president of the MRFF, told The Blaze that the service members, who have remained anonymous to the media, are of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and atheist faiths. Weinstein added that he believes the nativity scenes have a far more appropriate home in the base's chapel.
"The law is clear. Either you include all religious faiths or you do not," he said. "These nativity scenes are completely appropriate over at the chapel. They are completely … egregiously unconstitutional where they currently reside."
When the Navy Times contacted Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, on the issue, he responded by stressing that the Defense Department does not "endorse" any one religion.
"We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion – in a manner that is respectful of other individuals' rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission."