Iowa State University puts Bibles in guest rooms, riling up the FFRF

This may not seem like a biggie, but I really do see violations of the First Amendment as a slippery slope.  Every time the Ten Commandments is displayed on public property, every time creationism is taught without opposition in public-school science classes, every time a manger goes up on a courthouse lawn, it makes it easier for further (and perhaps worse) violations to occur in the future. That’s why it’s important to quickly nip in the bud any incursion of religion into the U.S. government.  The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF, the Official Website Atheist Organization™) is superb at this: they try to stop First Amendment violations at the outset, avoiding lengthy and expensive court battles. It’s important to recognize that doing so doesn’t just protect nonbelievers—it protects members of all faiths, for none should be privileged.

Iowa State University (ISU) is of course a public university, but the officials have allowed Gideon Bibles to be placed in the university guest rooms. We’ve all opened drawers in our hotel rooms to find such Bibles, but some readers have carped about that. Well, hotels can do what they want (Marriott hotel rooms, for instance, also have copies of the book of Mormon, since Bill Marriott, the son of the chain’s founders, is a Mormon.

Well, one of our readers, whose name I won’t reveal, complained to the FFRF about the Bibles in the ISU student union, and today the FFRF (i.e., staff lawyer Patrick Elliott) sent them one of their patented letters, which any sane lawyer will recognize as a shot across the bow.  (Its implicit message is, “If you don’t take action, we’ll sue your pants off.”) I reproduce it below.

As I mentioned, this is not a huge battle in the war to keep church and state separate, but every little bit helps. And it does tick me off to see Bibles in hotel rooms. You never see the Bhagavad Gita or The God Delusion!

Note, in the letter below, the case law stating that Gideon Bibles cannot be placed in public secondary schools. Public universities are clearly not exempt from such a ruling.

Picture 2

Picture 1
Ceiling Cat bless the FFRF and its staff! If you want the biggest secular bang for your charity buck, you could do worse than give them a donation. Oh, and if you see potential violations of the First Amendment, always think about reporting them to the FFRF. They are nice folks and will decide whether any issue is worth pursuing.


  1. gbjames
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Good old FFRF. My favorite organization of all.

  2. Howard Neufeld
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Jerry – Wouldn’t it be more effective if this letter was also cc’d to the University President and lawyers?

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know, but it might be a legal strategy… first target the person directly responsible, then escalate if need be.

  3. eric
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey look, if you’re going charge high fees to the students and hit up the alumni every umpteen weeks, the least you can do is hit up the Gideons too. Charge them a $10/month/drawer rental fee for storage of their bibles. 🙂

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:15 am | Permalink

      Don’t forget the rig-up/ rig-down fee! Several dollars for installing or uninstalling a Bible from the room. That’s a minimum.

  4. Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Hey! ISU is my alma mater. It is also located in my home town. All I can say is: good for the FFRF. May the continue to do good work!

  5. Jim Thomerson
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I have seen the Buddhist book in motel rooms in Hawaii. On the other hand, I have stayed in motels which didn’t even provide a local phone book.

    • Bob J.
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      Same here.

  6. Bob J.
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    My Gideon Bible is signed by both Mr. Deity and Lucy.

    • eric
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      I have a bible-in-a-box. The box came with a big red sticker on the front which reads: “Imperfect. 20% off.”

      I have yet to find the printing imperfection which forced the distributor to label it like that, but I get amused every time I look at it.

  7. E.A. Blair
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    When I stayed in a hotel in Stykkishólmur, a small town on Snæfellsnes, I found a bible in the dresser drawer. It was, of course, in Icelandic, and I was surprised that there weren’t any in German or English since those are the most common languages spoken by the tourists who typically end up as guests.

    I was intrigued by the opening line of the text: “Í upphafi skapaði Guð himinn og jörd.”, which, rendered into English, becomes “In the beginning, God shaped heaven and earth.” I found this curious, in that the word skapaði (shaped) implies that this was not creation from nothing, but the use of some substance that was already there. It further implies that the deity is not the ultimate creator.

    I have since wondered whether, and how much, the language in which one reads this book influences one’s opinion of its truth value. Would a fundamentalist Christian Icelander (if there is, indeed, such a beast) accept the same literal interpretation of creation as an American counterpart? The question did not occur to me until long after that trip, so I do not yet have an answer. It would be an interesting study, though.

    I still have that Icelandic bible. I asked the hotel owner if I could take it, and he seemed surprised that I actually asked instead of pinching it. I told him that I was asking because I am not a Christian, and he thought that was hilarious.

    • Posted January 29, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m sure ithas some effect. Just the malakoi and arsenokoitai translations have been enough to create a whole bunch of trouble.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      When I had to translate some of the bible in my Greek class back in the day, I think it was Matthew – it said that the holy ghost came to Joseph in a dream & told him not to freak out about Mary being preggars. The King James one calls it a “vision”. I thought that was interesting as one is more supernatural than the other.

    • Chris
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 4:08 am | Permalink

      I don’t know, most Icelanders seem to be fairly well-adjusted when it comes to evangelical Christianity!

      • E.A. Blair
        Posted January 30, 2014 at 5:18 am | Permalink

        Which is why I expressed doubts as to whether there is such a beast. The only Icelanders I met who didn’t seem indifferent to religion were the neopagans reconstructing the old Nordic polytheism.

  8. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    One alternative is to have one of many anthologies available of Scriptures from all world religions, which wouldn’t go over with the Gideons, but I myself would be most glad to see AC Grayling’s Humanist Bible with perhaps a few writings of Confucius, Aristotle, and Buddhist stuff.

  9. Hempenstein
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    When we live in Stockholm, the damn Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking on the apartment door one day*. I wasn’t there but my future ex told them she didn’t speak Swedish (which was an exaggeration). They returned the next day with their paperwork in English.

    *Not sure how they got in – the bldg had a key lock on the front door.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      Not sure how they got in – the bldg had a key lock on the front door.

      Most routinely-locked buildings have a process by which utility/ service personnel can get into the building. Sometimes the (electronic) door is “on the latch” for several hours mid-morning (I’ve used this myself for distributing election literature ; the postman also uses it). Sometimes there’s a concierge or building supervisor to call. But there are generally ways and means.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I provide additional material for the Gideons’ index:

    • gbjames
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      Nice, but an awful lot of work… just in a single hotel!

      • ladyatheist
        Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

        I was there for several days!

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 30, 2014 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      Most impressive!

  11. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The Gideons suck. They used to come to my school & talk to us then give us bibles. My dad told me when he was a kid, he used his red giddeon bible as a bb gun target.

    I know not long ago they got turfed from Canadian elementary schools when an atheist threatened to make a Charter claim. The school & Gideons backed off.

  12. Posted January 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    We we sure it wasn’t just extra toilet paper?


    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted February 3, 2014 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      It scratches.

      • Posted February 3, 2014 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        What else do you expect from one of the cheap un-classy hotels that would have Bibles in the first place?


  13. Dango
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Meh, anytime I see a Bible in a hotel room, I just put it in a nearby drawer. I’d do the same if it were the Qur’an or Bhagavad Gita. Minor annoyances. Not enough to ruin my day.

  14. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    They have <a href="; their uses…

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 29, 2014 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      Damn! HTML fail…

  15. Mary L
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I’ve used hotel bible pages as paper towels and coasters for years.

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