There’s no longer room at one inn for the Gideon Bible.
UW-Extension has ended a decades-old practice and pulled Gideon Bibles from the 137 guest rooms at The Lowell Center, a campus conference facility it operates at 610 Langdon St.
The action followed a complaint from the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.
In a Nov. 4 letter to UW-Extension, foundation attorney Patrick Elliot wrote that “permitting members of outside religious groups the privilege of placing their religious literature in public university guest rooms constitutes state endorsement and advancement of these Christian publications.”
While private hotels may choose to put any type of literature in their rooms, state-run colleges “have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion,” he said.
Ray Cross, chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension and the recently chosen UW System president, responded to the complaint in a brief letter to the foundation Nov. 25, saying that “after carefully reviewing your concern,” all Bibles would be removed by Dec. 1.
A UW-Extension spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday the Bibles have been removed. She released the following statement from Bill Mann, director of Extension conference centers: “We reviewed the concern raised about the placement of Bibles in our guest rooms and decided to remove them. We want to make sure all guests are comfortable in our lodging.”
Annie Laurie Gaylor, foundation co-president, said her organization of atheists and agnostics had sought the removal of the Bibles for decades. Her mother, Anne Nicol Gaylor, a founder of the group, first contacted UW-Extension decades ago, perhaps as early as the 1980s. What made the difference this time?
“Society has changed,” Annie Laurie Gaylor said. “There are more non-believers and more non-Christians to be offended.”
The November letter was prompted by an overnight guest at the Lowell Center who contacted the foundation, Gaylor said. The November letter was the first written by a foundation attorney rather than a regular staff member, which also might have made a difference, Gaylor said.
The Bibles are distributed free by The Gideons International, which describes itself as “an association of Christian business and professional men and their wives dedicated to telling people about Jesus through sharing personally and by providing Bibles and New Testaments.”
Jeff Pack, a spokesman for The Gideons International, said he was not aware of the Madison case. The organization “follows whatever direction we are given from the local authorities we work with,” he said. “That’s the integrity we bring to this.”
“Society has changed. There are more non-believers and more non-Christians to be offended.” Annie Laurie Gaylor, Freedom From Religion Foundation co-president