Advocacy group pushes Navy to remove Bible from Okinawa POW/MIA display
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 6, 2018
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A nonprofit group dedicated to safeguarding servicemembers’ constitutional right to religious freedom has lodged a formal complaint with the Navy after a Bible was spotted in a POW/MIA “Missing Man” table display at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.
The complaint was filed Thursday by the New York-based Law Office of Donald Rehkopf Jr. on behalf of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and 26 families on Okinawa.
The complaint — addressed to Navy Medicine West commander Rear Adm. Paul Pearigen — demands the immediate removal of the Bible from the hospital galley display, the immediate removal of accompanying written materials that describe the United States as being “founded as one nation under God,” a Japanese translation of these materials and an independent investigation into who put up the display, as well as “appropriate disciplinary measures” for those responsible.
The complainants include sailors, Marines and Department of Defense civilian employees stationed on the island, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein said Friday.
“Why is that Bible there?” Weinstein said. “Can you imagine if somebody put a Quran there, or the book of Satan, or the Book of Mormon? It violates the [First Amendment’s Establishment Clause] as well as DOD and Navy regulations.”
MRFF officials expect the Navy to comply with the request; however, if it does not, they plan to file a third-party inspector general complaint and potentially a lawsuit if the issue remains unresolved after exhausting all “administrative remedies.”
A U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokeswoman referred comment requests to a U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa spokesman, who did not respond to messages Friday.
After learning about the display, Weinstein, a former Air Force judge advocate general and Reagan administration lawyer, contacted hospital officials earlier this week and asked them to remove the religious items from the display. He said a Navy JAG assigned to the hospital refused to do so without permission from the hospital commander, Capt. Cynthia Kuehner, who is away on temporary duty assignment.
The fight to remove religious articles from POW/MIA “Missing Man” tables is not new for MRFF. The group has been successful in several other cases, the latest in November when it forced the Denver VA Medical Center to remove religious items from a display.
MRFF has also successfully argued against religious proselytizing during official military functions and forced the removal of religious historical and holiday displays from common areas on military posts.