There is no room for Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the dining halls at Guantanamo Bay naval base – and the shepherds and wise men are equally unwelcome.
Fox News reports that the commander of the U.S. base has decided to remove nativity scenes from two dining halls after complaints that the decorations were improperly promoting Christianity.
According to Kelly Wirfel, spokeswoman for base commander Captain John Nettleton, the nativity scenes will be moved to the courtyard attached to the base chapel.
Wirfel said the displays were originally set up by contractors who run the dining facilities and were “not intended to endorse any religion.” She also said that base officials had received no direct complaints about the nativity scenes.
The relocation of the displays was in response to concerns raised by the advocacy group known as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The MRFF said it had been approached by troops who felt nativity scenes and Christmas decorations were inappropriate to their religious beliefs.
MRFF president Mikey Weinstein said his organization received an e-mail from 18 service members who said they were afraid any direct appeal to commanders would be ignored or result in retribution.
“They are terrified,” said Weinstein, a former Air Force lawyer. “Right now there is a witch hunt going on to find out who did this.”
Weinstein also said that 11 of the military members who complained are Protestant or Roman Catholic; the remaining are Muslim, Jewish, agnostic or atheist.
Located at the southeastern end of Cuba, the Guantanamo base has a population of nearly 6,000 military and civilian personnel. Outside the area holding military prisoners, the base has set up exterior displays of Christmas lights and other seasonal decorations.
The nativity scenes were located inside the base’s two main dining facilities, one of which is used primarily by staff working inside the prison, including translators and guards.
The e-mail sent to the MRFF said the nativity scenes were set up in late November in the middle of the eating area and that no other religious groups were represented, despite the religious diversity on the base.
The e-mail, which the MRFF provided to Associated Press without the names of its senders, said prominent military staff on the base had previously shown “Christian religious undertones,” which lead them to believe they could not openly complain about the decorations.
The anonymous senders also said they endured hardships in their jobs, including having bodily fluids thrown at them by prisoners, and deserved to not be made uncomfortable in the dining halls.
From the e-mail: “We would prefer to not have a large deal made out of this situation and only ask that these clear violations of military policy, and the Constitution, be removed immediately.”
The decorations have been removed – and it’s already a large deal.