Military Reverses Bible Distribution Policy At Induction Centers

December 18, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU Says New Policy Protects Religious Freedom Of All Inductees

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WASHINGTON – In a move that will help protect the religious freedom of new inductees, the U.S. military reversed its policy of giving preferential access to some religious groups to provide literature to new recruits. Some induction centers, known as Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), have granted Gideons International special access to military recruits in order to provide Bibles and religious messages on the day of their induction. MEPS facilities process incoming recruits for the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which launched an investigation into the practice last year, hailed the policy shift as a move that provides equal access for all belief groups to distribute literature.

“We applaud the Military Entrance Processing Command for recognizing that the religious freedom of all individuals joining the armed forces must be protected, including those who do not subscribe to the beliefs of the Gideons,” said Dr. T. Jeremy Gunn, Director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “The new rule strikes the right constitutional balance by preserving religious liberty without showing governmental favoritism for one religion or belief over another. The military did the right thing.”

After it was discovered that Gideons International was granted privileged access to distribute its Bibles at military induction facilities, the ACLU sent a letter to the commanding officer of MEPS in August 2007 to determine the extent to which religious and non-religious organizations were permitted to circulate literature.

The Military Entrance Processing Command’s new rule establishes an equal access principle that allows organizations to provide secular or religious literature in the facilities to avoid the “impression that the government is sponsoring, endorsing, or inhibiting religion generally, or favoring or disfavoring a particular religion.”

“This major policy change is clearly a step in the right direction,” according to Col. Mike Pheneger, U.S. Army (ret.), a member of the ACLU National Board. “The Military Entrance Processing Command deserves credit for being responsive and addressing this situation in a way that benefits all new inductees. This remedy ensures the First Amendment rights of potential service members will be protected in these facilities.”

“While there remain problematic aspects of the new regulations that will be further pursued by the ACLU, as a whole, they are moving in a positive direction,” added Gunn.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to the Military Entrance Processing Command and the new MEPS guidelines can be found online at: www.aclu.org/religion/gen/38129res20081218.html

Additional information about the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief can be found at: www.aclu.org/religion/index.html

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