Twenty-two members of Congress signed a letter asking if the military bowed to outside pressure when it recently reversed a policy that had allowed the Southern Baptist Convention to publish Bibles carrying military insignias.
By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist congressman has called on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to investigate why the Pentagon revoked permission for LifeWay Christian Resources to use military insignias on Bibles it had been publishing.
U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.) wrote a July 10 letter, co-signed by 22 members of Congress, questioning the motive behind asking LifeWay division B&H Publishing to stop publishing Bibles with the official emblems of the five branches of the military.
The Defense Department revoked permission, given to LifeWay in 2003, to use the insignias after complaints by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Military officials responded that the decision was made to revoke when the military revamped its trademark licensing regulations in 2011.
Nunnelee, a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Calvary Baptist Church in Tupelo and member of the Mississippi College board of trustees, said the revocation lent appearance that the decision “was in response to a manufactured, frivolous complaint.”
“The military should not be succumbing to pressure from outside groups to alter longstanding policy,” Nunnelee added in a statement accompanying the letter.
The letter accused the military of “bowing to a third-party” that is attempting to limit religious-liberty protections for people serving in the armed forces.
“Clarity on this issue is needed, and we look forward to your response on how the decision to revoke this trademark permission was made and what the Department of Defense is doing to ensure that the religious freedom of the members of our military is preserved and protected,” the letter said.
Nunnelee described the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, founded by 1977 Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein, as an “atheist group.” The Foundation, however, claims that 96 percent of the active duty military that seek them out are Christians.
Weinstein says over the past few years the MRFF has probably received more complaints about military Bibles displayed and sold in base exchanges and other stores on military bases than any other single issue.
In a series of letters, foundation lawyers argued that the Bibles violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by giving the appearance of a government stamp of approval. The Bibles were available only in Protestant versions and included supplemental study with an evangelical bent.
LifeWay said the Bibles now use generic insignias and continue to sell well.