At Georgia parks, enjoy natural beauty -- but religion is optional

Apparently not everyone likes curling up with a Good Book while they’re on vacation.

You might have heard the dust-up this past week about Bibles. Just like Bibles are placed in most hotel rooms, the books also are placed in the cabins and lodges available for rent at Georgia state parks.

Yes, someone has a problem with this. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this column. Apparently a guest at one of these cabins complained, and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources responded by telling its staffers to remove all its Bibles while the matter was investigated.

AFTER WHAT probably was the quickest government investigation ever, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the Bibles returned. A Bible in a drawer in a rented room doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The Bibles are donated not by the state but by the Gideons (more about them later), so the government isn’t establishing a religion.

Still, the occasional person has complained about Bibles in hotel rooms. I’ll summarize the complaints for you in one handy paragraph:

It offends me. It goes against what I believe in. I’m afraid whoever put a Bible there is trying to turn me into a Christian.

Really?

Reality TV offends me. Should all televisions be removed from hotel rooms?

I stayed at a hotel near Greenville, N.C., one time that had the ugliest drapes I ever saw. Those hideous curtains aesthetically go against what I believe in. Should they have been removed from all the hotel’s rooms?

What if a hotel decided to leave copies of Treasure Island in its rooms? Should I be afraid that whoever put them there is trying to turn me into a pirate?

There are instances where you have every right to complain about your lodging. If, say, a satanic mural is taking up an entire wall of my hotel room, I would complain. Those kinds of murals really don’t artistically tie the room together, and would likely frighten my dog.

But upset about a Bible? Don’t open it. Upset about what’s on your hotel room’s TV? Don’t turn it on.

AT THIS POINT in these kinds of discussions, someone usually pipes up with an argument that goes something like this: “Oh, yeah? Well, what would you do if someone put another kind of holy book in your hotel room? What if a Quran was in there? Huh? What if?”

Ever stayed at a Marriott
hotel? Since the hotel chain was founded by a Latter-Day Saint, you’re likely to find a Book of Mormon in each of its rooms. Has that ever offended you?

Me either.

And it shouldn’t.

You really want to know why so many hotel rooms have so many Bibles, and not Tanakhs or Qurans? Mainly because Bible guys thought of the idea first. Two Christian businessmen who shared a hotel room hit upon the Bible distribution idea, and they made it happen. The group they founded, Gideons International, has placed more than 1.7 billion Bibles in rooms since 1908.

And as Gov. Deal pointed out, any religious group is welcome to donate literature just like the Gideons.

But trust me, mere proximity to a holy book doesn’t count as forced proselytizing. There’s no religious radioactivity emanating from these books. As I type this in my office, a Quran sits on a shelf just a few feet away from me. I’ve thumbed through it a couple of times. But after more than nine years of being in the same room with it, I’m still not Muslim.

Within just a mile or two of my house in Columbia County, there’s an Islamic mosque, a Hindu temple, a Sikh gudwara, a Coptic Orthodox church and more Protestant churches than you can shake a stick at, if shaking sticks is your idea of a good time. I like living amid that diversity.

AT MY CHURCH, our congregation is so culturally diverse that part of our Pentecost celebration involves parishioners reading that day’s Bible readings in their native languages – such as Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Hindi. In past years there have been more languages I couldn’t even recognize.

I like that diversity, too.

Spend less time nitpicking about where people are putting Bibles, and spend more time cultivating tolerance. Then we’ll have a world closer to the one we all want.

And if your worldview is so soap-bubble fragile that a book tucked in a hotel drawer is enough to throw you off your ideological rocker – well, maybe the book isn’t the problem.

Comments (14) Add comment
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InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 05/19/13 - 06:40 am
2
0
Excellent letter Mr.

Excellent letter Mr. Hotchkiss!

RQ
13
Points
RQ 05/19/13 - 07:29 am
2
3
Missing the point

The author totally misses the point. It's not a complaint about bibles in any hotel room, but specifically a state park, which is a government property paid for by all tax payers. There is a difference between a private hotel, and a state park.

If the government is going to give a platform to one religious group distribute their literature, they can't play favorites. This is not about being offended by the choice of drapes, but making sure government remains neutral, and is not favoring any religious viewpoint over another.

The governor says they will accept donations from any group. let's see if there is no claims of being offended when a Christian finds a copy of The God Delusion in their state park cabin, and either complains or uses the book as kindling for that evening's camp fire.

effete elitist liberal
3191
Points
effete elitist liberal 05/19/13 - 08:38 am
1
3
Really, Joe???

"...whoever put a Bible there is trying to turn me into a Christian." Really?, Joe asks. Yes, really. From their website: "The mission of The Gideons International is to win the lost for Christ." Hotchkiss knows perfectly well that in the law, religion is very different from ugly curtains and bad tv, and if he doesn't, he shouldn't be writing newspaper editorials. Furthermore, RQ has it exactly right--there is a big difference between a private hotel and a state park. The Gideons place Bibles in rooms for the express purpose of proselytizing. They seek to convert people to Christianity. Hotchkiss, that noted Constitutional law expert, claims that since the state does not own the Bibles, but simply allows the Gideons to distribute them, the practice in constitutional. Whether the state of Georgia can be a party to the dissemination of Christian propaganda even indirectly is an interesting legal question, and Hotchkiss's uninformed opinions notwithstanding, a question best left to the courts to determine.

Sweet son
11762
Points
Sweet son 05/19/13 - 12:24 pm
3
1
Guess what 2 and 3!

It is an opinion piece and Mr. Hotchkiss has a right to his opinion and actually I agree with him!

effete elitist liberal
3191
Points
effete elitist liberal 05/19/13 - 12:51 pm
2
2
Sweet

Neither 2 nor I ever said Hotchkiss didn't have the right to express his opinion (or should I say the opinion of the owner of the AC for whom Hotchkiss is merely a paid front man). I simply exercised my own "right" in saying I believe when it comes to declaring constitutional the state's policy of allowing Bible's in state-owned rentals, Hotchkiss is speaking on a subject about which he has little or no knowledge.

RQ
13
Points
RQ 05/19/13 - 03:57 pm
2
2
Who said he didn't have a right to his opinion?

Sweet son, Did a say Mr. Hotchkiss didn't have a right to his opinion? He expressed his opinion in a public forum, and I reponded to him. You say you agree with him, but you do not say what it is you agree with him on. Mr Hotchkiss makes a strawman argument in saying the atheist was offended by bibles in any hotel room. This is not in fact what the complaint was. Do you think government should show favoritism to certain religious views over others? Should public property that you support with taxes be used to distribute religious literature that you are opposed to?

Gage Creed
19442
Points
Gage Creed 05/19/13 - 04:37 pm
0
1
More examples of the not so

More examples of the not so open-minded disciples of tolerance!

Little Lamb
49247
Points
Little Lamb 05/19/13 - 04:47 pm
1
0
Tolerance and Diversity

Excellent column.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
P.S. It was neat to bring up that tradition of reading a scripture passage in different languages at the same time (speaking in diverse tongues) and today is Pentecost (at least in many mainstream denominations).

InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 05/19/13 - 05:52 pm
2
1
" Should public property that

" Should public property that you support with taxes be used to distribute religious literature that you are opposed to?"

I find it rather hilarious to think that a book placed in a night stand drawer would be considered "distributing religious literature". If the clerk checking you in handed you a Bible at check-in I could see your point. If a maid handed you one when she cleaned your room, I could see your point. But a book inside a night stand is nothing more than a piece of the décor until you open that book and CHOOSE to read it. This is nothing more than those bottles of water in your cooler that you choose to open and decide to drink from. These are nothing more than the little soap and shampoos on the bathroom sink that you choose to use or pocket in your travel bag.

So many worried about a closed book hidden away in a desk drawer. Government property or public property, makes no difference. People who do Satan's bidding will always find reason to complain.

InChristLove
22485
Points
InChristLove 05/19/13 - 06:10 pm
2
0
I think what they need to do

I think what they need to do is place a sticker on the front of each Bible stating if they find this book offensive, please return to the front desk. Then when the customer check's out, they can replace the Bible back in the desk drawer upon cleaning the room for the next guest. That way if the next guest is looking for something to read or needs some words of comfort, they have the material to choose to read. That way both guest has the same opportunity....return it to the front desk if offensive, leave in the drawer or choose to read if you are not offended. My guess would be most Bibles would remain in the drawers and I'd guess half of the people staying in a room/cabin/lodge have no clue a Bible is even in the drawer.

jeffnix
4
Points
jeffnix 05/20/13 - 07:58 am
1
0
Ya gotta love free speech/thought

This offense by the patron represents the pinnacle of political correctness that itself violates the sensibilities of reasonable thought. While it’s true that a legal argument for the sake of issue debate can be applied to any scenario, when one manufactures a non-issue (straw man) from relatively benign circumstances they are abusing common sense and reasonable consideration. It seems to be endemic among the modern human condition that being offended or easily agitated over the smallest of inconsequential matters is the first response. This story of a bible in a state park room underscores just how far one will go to make a nonsensical point as they practice their own overblown sense of community service. It’s a dangerous position to take when one takes upon themselves the intention of correcting a personal grievance in a way that potentially affects many.

Sweet son
11762
Points
Sweet son 05/20/13 - 03:34 pm
1
0
Well!

I guess I did stir some conversations/comments and that is good. I believe Mr. Hotchkiss was speaking from his heart and not from the litigating society in which we live.

Glad we have this forum where we can express our opinions, comments and concerns. Never meant to upset effette and RQ. Just meant to say it was opinion.

We will always agree to disagree here when we comment but we should all be friends when it is done! :)

Sean Moores
702
Points
Sean Moores 05/20/13 - 03:54 pm
0
0
Amen Sweet son

I agree.

RQ
13
Points
RQ 05/20/13 - 05:02 pm
0
0
People who do Satan's bidding

So according to InChristLove, people who show concern for keeping the government neutral in matters of religion, so that citizens are free to practice the religion of their choice, are actually doing "Satan's bidding". Interesting. Christians are happy as long as the government is giving them a hand out to promote their delusional mythology, but if the government were favoring an anti-Christian view, I imagine you wouldn't turn the other cheek.

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