Air Force officer reportedly kept an open Bible on his desk for years, and now he's under fire
Posted August 30, 2016
An Air Force official is under fire for keeping an open Bible at his workstation, with at least one activist demanding he be punished as a result.
Maj. Steve Lewis, a supervisor at the Reserve National Security Space Institute in Colorado, has come under fire after The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group run by activist Mikey Weinstein, waged a complaint against him.
That grievance has since sparked an investigation — one in which officials are exploring whether the Bible's presence constituted a First Amendment violation or whether it was permissible as an accommodation of Lewis' religious beliefs, the Colorado Springs Independent reported.
The battle began after Col. Damon Feltman, 310th Space Wing commander, received a letter from Weinstein calling the Bible's presence into question. Lewis reportedly willingly removed the holy book after the investigation was underway.
Feltman said the situation involved striking a delicate balance between individual rights and constitutional concerns.
"The basic premise of the Air Force instruction (on religious freedom), grounded in Department of Defense policy, grounded in law is, people have an inherent right to free exercise of religion within boundaries," Feltman told the Independent. "At the same time, people have freedom to be left alone. It's finding that right balance. The challenge of the commander is to be sure both people are treated fairly."
An unnamed source told the outlet that the Bible, which includes highlighted scripture, was located in a common area, leading critics like Weinstein to argue that its presence unfairly shows a preference for Christianity.
Weinstein has said that he received 33 complaints from others who were concerned about its placement in the office.
But Feltman told conservative commentator Todd Starnes that the presence of a Bible — or of any other holy book for that matter — isn't necessarily problematic.
"As long as he’s not doing something excessive, the existence of a Bible or the Koran or the Torah or some other religious article is not prohibited," he said. "It’s what you do with it when you have it."
But according to Starnes, The Military Religious Freedom Foundation wants Lewis to be "aggressively punished" for placing the Bible in front of his computer keyboard, calling the act a "repulsive violation" of Air Force code.
"It (the Bible) is very obviously a statement of Christian preference, Christian primacy," Weinstein reportedly told Starnes. "Had that been the Book of Satan or the Koran there would be blood in the freaking streets."
Weinstein also said in a statement on his website that Lewis had created "an around-the-clock Christian Bible Shrine on his official USAF workstation desk that has been in prominent static display for years."
Claiming that the pages in the open Bible never changed, he said that it was a clear religious display intended to promote Christianity.
Whether the Bible can return to Lewis' desk in the future depends on the results of the investigation and assessment that is currently pending.
But in a follow-up letter that Weinstein wrote to Feltman — a note that was published to The Military Religious Freedom Foundation website Aug. 19 — the activist questioned whether the investigation is "being made a total mockery."
Weinstein alleged the investigator looking into the matter is the same person who serves in command and had purportedly been overlooking the Bible's presence in the office in the first place.
"If true, the conflict of interest stench would malodorously permeate and comprehensively discredit your so-called 'investigation,'" the letter read.
It is unclear how the issue will eventually be resolved, as the investigation is ongoing.
In a separate incident, a former Marine named Monifa Sterling was reportedly court-martialed after refusing to take down three Bible verses she had displayed in her workspace at a base in North Carolina, among other purported offenses.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces recently upheld her bad conduct discharge.
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