Penn State deep-sixes Bibles in its hotel rooms

September 13, 2014 • 10:44 am

A hotel run by a public university should not have Bibles in its hotel rooms. (Yes, Universities do run “hotels,” or paid lodging; I’ve stayed in such places many times.) Yet according to the Centre Daily Times, a Central Pennsylvania newspaper, until just recently the two hotels at Penn State University had a Gideon Bible in every room.

That’s clearly unconstitutional.  The University realized that, although the reason they gave for just now removing the Bibles (and putting them in the hotel library) was not quite that. It was the Zeitgeist!:

“Penn State decided to remove Bibles from individual guest rooms in both of its hotels, The Nittany Lion Inn and the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, and to place them in public access areas,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

The move was made not to limit the beliefs of one group but to be more inclusive of all, Penn State said.

“In the past few decades, the world and its people have changed dramatically. We wish to be respectful of all religions, and also of those who have differing beliefs, yet we still wanted to ensure the publication was available to those who desire to read it while staying with us,” Powers said. “This action was taken in the spirit of recognizing other religions and beliefs among our guests.”

The move also makes it possible for other groups — such as Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc. — to have their beliefs, and their religious books, be put on the same footing.

“It’s my understanding that those publications are certainly accepted if a group wishes to make them available at our hotels,” Powers said.

The religious tomes have been moved to the hotel’s libraries. Maybe not every hotel has its own book collection, but the university’s do. In fact, the Nittany Lion Inn has two of them. The Bibles are also available in some other public access areas. But that doesn’t mean they have to stay there.

And they shouldn’t, at least not in public lounges where other religious tomes aren’t available.  At any rate, I think a few generous readers should donate copies of The God Delusion, The End of Faith, and God is not Great to the Penn State hotels for inclusion in their book collection. Don’t you think readers would be drawn to them? Here are the addresses:
Nittany Lion Inn
200 West Park Avenue
State College, PA 16803

The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel
215 Innovation Boulevard
State College, PA 16803

Send in your dogeared copies of the Horsemen books! If you send a book to both places, with proof, I’ll reward you with a Jerry Coyne the Cat keyring. I know it’s not much, but it’s cute.
There’s one more item:

Maggie Biddle, general manager of the Atherton Hotel in downtown State College, said her 149 rooms still have Bibles, but that she appreciated the motivation behind Penn State’s move.

“That’s something we might think about ourselves,” she said.

And that got me wondering. Hotels, like all public facilities that cater to travelers, are covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious discrimination. Can it be possible that every Gideon Bible in a hotel (even though they’re all donated), is resting there illegally?

Until this is litigated, if it ever is, the Freedom from Religion Foundation sells “Bible warning labels” for $2.00 per dozen, perfect for sticking in those offending Gideon Bibles in your hotel room. The thing is, though, that it still costs 17¢ to assert your freedom from religion:


A cheaper alternative is to simply take a pen and write this at the beginning (it’s not vandalism, as the Bibles are gifts and you’re even urged to take them with you):


ADDENDUM: Reader Adrian just sent me a new t**t that originated from Alistair Coleman about an addition to a hotel Gideon Bible:

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 1.15.57 PM

h/t: Sanjiv

53 thoughts on “Penn State deep-sixes Bibles in its hotel rooms

  1. I remember the religious people coming to my public school & handing out those small gideon bibles. I hated sitting through it but the book lover & cheapskate in my was all, “cool, free book”. I guess that’s how they get you – go for the cheapness. 🙂

    My dad got them too when he was a kid and used to use them as bee bee gun targets since they were small & red.

  2. Actor Ian McKellan routinely took a pair of scissors and cut out the anti-gay passages in Leviticus from the Bible of every hotel he stayed in.

    1. Interesting, but ‘near death’ is at most a state of near unconsciousness. The only things they found are that at some point in the procedure their subjects experienced brain activity in various locations including regions of the sensory cortex and limbic system.

        1. well if they actually killed some people (I can nominate a couple of possible subjects)and then brought them back to life it would be more convincing. Until then they just brought back people from a near death state. Happens every day in operating theatres around the world.

          1. No need to kill somebody, even if we do all have our little lists. Just go to the graveyard and dig up anybody who’s been there at least two days.

            Hey, if Jesus can come back after three days, Shirley, two days shouldn’t be a problem for modern medicine, no?


  3. I think this strategy of appealing to non-discrimination between religions as a reason to remove the Bibles is both encouraging and discouraging.

    It’s encouraging because it might work.

    It’s discouraging because
    1.) there’s no acknowledgment and reinforcement of church/state separation
    2.) it draws its strength from the view that we should take particular care to never offend the religious, any religious
    3.) we know damn well that specifically atheist objections would be ignored.

  4. I’ve printed, on clear return stickers, “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.”

    I always have a few in my wallet to insert on the cover page.

  5. I’ll be staying at a hotel next weekend. Can’t wait to cross out “In the beginning” and write “Once upon a time”. Love it!!!

    Not really related, but another form of mischief I used to do is turn over the Pineapple Upside Down cake boxes at grocery stores.

  6. I guess that you are right and it’s unconstitutional, but you seem to be concerned not only with the legal issue.
    So, and I am not here to challenge you, why is it bad for a hotel to offer a religious book to its guests? If they offered it, it’s probably because there was some demand, no?

    1. Yes, you are here to challenge me, and my answer is that religion should not be forced down somebody’s throats,as it is when you find only a Christian bible in your room. Either no Bible or every religion.

      Demand? I doubt it: the Gideons give free Bibles to hotels and they keep them because they think that some patrons will like them. I doubt that if they disappeared anybody would demand them.

      Please do not try to psychologize me. In fact, my objection is the same objection that led to the religious provision of the Civil Rights act.

      1. I meant not challenge for the sake of challenge, but to understand your position.
        In my country (Israel), the state offers religious services (and support privately run services) and there is no significant resistance to it, so I am not used to this being an issue (the bright side is that when a senior official of the ministry of education suggested that creationism has its merits, he was unemployed the next day).

        1. It is common for countries around the world to have government establishments of religion(s). I am convinced that our planet would be better off if all government establishments of religion everywhere were eventually abandoned, much like we would be better off if government discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, race, etc. were abandoned. Government non-establishment of religion is a non-discrimination requirement. In the Middle East, unfortunately, establishments of religion are even more deeply rooted than in other parts of the world, so I do not expect to see Israel to be taking a leading role here. But hopefully one day in the future it will happen in all of Europe and the Middle East also.

          1. I don’t think it’s endorsement. In some ways, Islam is preferred over Judaism (it’s largely a remainder of the Ottoman law, which passed to the Israeli law through the British mandate).
            Israel has no state religion and services are offered to all religions significantly represented in the Israeli society.
            I think that most Israelis don’t see much difference between religious services and, say, sports or arts.

            1. Some of Israel’s establishments of religions are divisive and contentious. But even when government establishments of religions are popular with a majority, they are still unfair. The citizens who hold the government established religious beliefs are favored over other citizens. This is true everywhere there are laws enacting government establishments of religions such as today in Great Britain, in Germany, etc. I publicly advocate for atheism, but I oppose government establishment of atheism in China. Governments make and enforce the laws and they are therefore ethically obligated to be impartial. Such government impartiality conflicts with government establishments of religions.

            2. Goland said:

              “I think that most Israelis don’t see much difference between religious services and, say, sports or arts.”

              Many ethnically Jewish Israelis, like many Europeans, are secular in outlook, and religion for the non-religious is personally unimportant. But some Israelis, like some Europeans, are religious, and religion is not like sports or arts for them. You are Israeli, not me, and I do not want to dispute your first hand expertise, but I think you are being a little disengenious here.

              1. I am answering both your posts here.
                I was too focused on a certain type of religious services, didn’t consider others, and was, not disingenuous, but flat out wrong. Please allow me to clarify.
                When I said that religion is like sports and arts for many Israelis, I didn’t mean, of course, that they are equally important for religious people. What I meant is that most Israelis view religion as a subcategory of culture and public funding of religious services as essentially equivalent to public funding of theaters, museums, sports and their like. An atheist myself, I don’t see much problem with that.
                While there are many religious people here (though the ratio of Israelis who describe themselves as religious is smaller than that of Americans), the Israeli society is secular and religions does not play in important role in public life.
                What makes the image I portrayed above wrong is the really problematic issue of marriage and divorce being handled in Israel by religious courts only. This is obviously a very serious violation of religious freedom and causes other major problems of gender equality and other human rights issues (for example, some couples cannot marry in Israel).

    2. No, it isn’t the hotel offering it in response to demand, it’s the Bible-pushers installing it in hotel rooms.

      Why it’s bad (ignoring the constitutional question which doesn’t exist in other countries)? Because if I as a guest want some reading matter, I’d like a choice of some sort, and even if each hotel room just had one randomly-chosen book, at least it wouldn’t be the same blasted book as the last hotel room had.

    3. It goes to the same reason why the laws exist in the first place.

      Take race as, perhaps, an easier example. Why shouldn’t a barber specialize in straight blonde hair and not bother with the intricacies of the curly black hair typical of American Blacks?

      In an alternate universe, that sort of thing could perhaps be reasonable. But, in the States, with its history, any such private “preference” is inevitably an expression of the same bigotry that led to restaurants with signs that read, “no dogs or negroes,” and, eventually, to the lunch counter sit-ins, Rosa Parks, and all the rest.

      At the same time we made such discrimination on the basis of the color of one’s skin illegal, even for privately-owned businesses, we also recognized a number of other “protected classes.” America has had at least as long an history of trouble with religious discrimination as racial discrimination — and the whole planet with gender discrimination — and so our civil rights laws protect all three classes (and a few more) equally.

      Churches, for example, can restrict hiring to those of the same faith for explicitly religious functions (especially, for example, the priesthood). But they’d be setting themselves up for a world of hurt if they required the business office cleaning staff to belong to the same faith, or put undue pressure on employees to convert.


    4. I have never seen one of these bibles that looked as though anyone had ever so much as glanced through it. They always look brand new. Gideon’s Bibles must be one of the biggest wastes of money in the charity world. The only people to benefit from this are the printers and distributors.

  7. In about the last 6 years I’ve had reason to travel with my family for both business and pleasure. Starting at our stay 6 years ago, near Disneyland, my then 7 year old daughter found a buy-bull in the hotel room we were staying in. I told her what it was about and added “Once Upon a Time….” before the “In the beginning….” to the beginning….didn’t cross out the “In the beginning” words tho. We also went thru the “When you are feeling blah blah…..Read blah blah” section pointing out that while the ‘pointed to passage’ says such & such another passage contradicts or gives entirely different advice. After that, whenever we stayed in hotels she would find the buy-bull in the room and ask if we could write in it like the first time. Now, except for buy-bulls in the bookstores she asks if we can do that to them when we find one. She’s 12 now.

  8. For the keychain, can it be any horseman book? And perchance, would a certain book on evolution count?

    (In case I find it necessary to supplement my JC the Cat keychain collection.)

  9. JC asked: “Can it be possible that every Gideon Bible in a hotel (even though they’re all donated), is resting there illegally?”

    The answer is no. You are confusing discrimination between religions, which is a government establishment of religion problem, with discrimination against employees and customers, which is the 1964 Civil Rights Acts problem. The bibles in the government sponsored hotel issue is a government EC violation that applies only to government institution contexts. No customers are being denied service because of the presence of bibles in hotel rooms (which can be removed on customer request).

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