The opening paragraph in the story said “Air Force officials have agreed in principle to remove Bibles … following pressure from an atheist group” identified as the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, an agency based in Washington D.C.
The story was based on an account carried by the Air Force Association Tuesday that indicated MAAF “claimed victory against the Air Force in its quest to free the U.S. military of policies that it purports promote religion.”
The association, AFA noted, “was upset over the fact that guest rooms in Air Force lodging have Bibles, something the group contends represents a ‘special privilege for Christianity.’”
Dickerson said The Patriot headline and opening paragraph were wrong and that Air Force had only agreed to remove a Bible reference in an extensive, 1,200-item checklist used by Air Force innkeepers to insure standards are being met and maintained. The reference in the checklist is in the form of a question: “Is a Bible provided?”
“The Air Force has not agreed, in principle or otherwise, to remove Bibles,” Dickerson stressed.
His statement delivered by e-mail and telephone added that the “Air Force has not directed the removal of Bibles from Air Force Inns’ lodging rooms at this time. We continue to review the situation and weigh our multiple First Amendment responsibilities and obligations.”
The AFSA spokesman underscored that Bibles are placed in the rooms by The Gideons and not by the Air Force.
Asked how Air Force innkeepers should react to removal of the checklist reference to Bibles, Dickerson declined to speculate.
“We provided a statement and the statement is pretty clear,” he said. “No one is directing innkeepers to do anything. There is no directive. All we’ve done is remove one item from a 1,200-item checklist.”
The checklist is not a regulation or an Air Force instruction, Dickerson added.
“It’s a checklist used in inspections for a variety of reasons. There is no legal requirement to have or not have Bibles in the room,” he indicated.
He said no expectation is being placed on Air Force innkeepers.
“All the Air Force has done is remove the question from the checklist,” Dickerson said. “And we haven’t even done that yet. That will be done in September.”
Lodging officials at Robins Air Force Base could not be reached Tuesday afternoon to discuss their reaction to the checklist change.
Dickerson said no promise to remove Bibles has been made to MAAF.
“We communicated a legal opinion that there is no requirement (to have Bibles in the rooms),” he reported. “The only thing that was communicated to them was that (the Bible) question would be removed from the checklist. That’s it.”
Jason Torpy, identified as MAAF president on the association’s web page, did not return a phone call Tuesday afternoon asking for comment.