US Navy Rejects Atheist Group's Demand to Remove Bible From POW/MIA Display

This "Missing Man" exhibit on display at a U.S. Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan was the subject of an April 2018 complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. | (Photo: Military Religious Freedom Foundation)

The United States Navy has rejected a leading secularist group's demands that it remove a Bible on display at a "Missing Man" table honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action at a Naval hospital in Japan.

Earlier this month, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and 26 families in Okinawa sent a complaint to Rear Adm. Paul D. Pearigen. The complaint alleged that the Bible's inclusion on the traditional Missing Man table at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa was a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and constituted a government promotion of religion.

The letter further argued that the Bible's inclusion could be considered an unlawful attempt to convert Japanese citizens to Christianity and contended that it violates both Navy and Department of Defense policies.

It was initially reported that Pearigen had ordered an investigation into the Bible's inclusion on the Missing Man table, a military tradition that began at the end of the Vietnam War to commemorate those lost in conflict.

Last week, Pearigen formally responded to the April 5 complaint sent on behalf of the MRFF and the families by lawyer Donald Rehkopf.

Pearigen, who serves in the San Diego-based Navy Medicine West command, explained that no action will be taken to remove the Bible from the table.

"You also expressed concern that the presence of the Bible, and the explanation in both English and Japanese that it represents 'strength through faith to sustain those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God,' is improper," Pearigen wrote in his April 17 letter. "I assure you that the Bible and the description of the POW/MIA remembrance table are consistent with DoD and DoN guidance and with the Constitution."

Pearigen continued by explaining that the Missing Man table has been a part of military tradition for years and stated that since the Bible is not the main focus of the table, it does not violate the Constitution.

"The ceremony originated with the National League of Families and has been adopted by civic organizations and the DoD. When depicted with the other eight ceremonial items, the book is not the focal point of the table," Pearigen wrote. "As one of nine symbolic references on the table, the purpose of the book and accompanying description is not to promote religion, but to commemorate the strength and resolve required of POWs and MIA personnel in the most difficult of times."

Pearigen assured that "each item on the table contributes to an atmosphere of remembrance and solemnity, without emphasizing the book as a religious text."

"In light of the foregoing, neither review nor an investigation of this matter is necessary," Pearigen concluded.

MRFF's attempt to remove the Bible from the table in Okinawa comes after it was successful in getting a Bible removed from an officer's desk at an Air Force base in Ohio in 2016.

In August 2014, the Navy decided to remove Bibles from Navy lodges and guest quarters after a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. However, that decision was short-lived as the Navy quickly reversed its decision.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith Follow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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