Atheist group lodges complaint over Bible blessing at Washington National Cathedral

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The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, left, and the Right Rev. Carl Wright, bishop suffragan for the armed ofrces and federal ministries in the Episcopal Church, center, bless the official Bible of the newly created Space Force during a service at the cathedral on Jan. 12. Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, the Air Force's chief of chaplains, is holding the Bible on the right. The cathedral said in a social media post that the Bible will be used to swear in all Space Force commanders, drawing a strong objection from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (Danielle Thomas/Washington National Cathedral)

The blessing of a Bible for the nation’s newest military branch got started a little tweet war of its own earlier this month, the Military Times reports.

Washington National Cathedral posted a photograph on Jan. 12 of clergy, alongside the Air Force’s chief of chaplains, blessing a Bible for the newly created Space Force. In its tweet, the cathedral called it “the official Bible for the new” Space Force, syaing it “will be used to swear in all commanders of America’s newest military branch.”

Commenters on social media called it a potential violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which forbids government preference for one religion over another. Some questioned whether the cathedral’s statement that the Bible will be used to swear in “all commanders” meant non-Christians would be excluded.

“So no Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Sikhs allowed in Space Force?” Princeton professor Steven Strauss tweeted.

In an email on Jan. 13, Air Force spokeswoman Lynn Kirby said the term “official Bible” is incorrect. She said that using it will not be required for commanders.

“In keeping with the Department of the Air Force historical tradition when swearing in a new service chief, the Bible mentioned in the tweet will be used during the swearing-in ceremony for the first chief of space operations,” Kirby said. “This option will remain a personal choice for each individual swearing in.”

Gen. Dave Goldfein and retired Gen. Mark Welsh, among others, were sworn in to serve as chief of staff of the Air Force while placing their hand on a Bible, according to photographs on the Air Force’s website. Goldfein spokeswoman Lt. Col. Teresa Sullivan said in an email that particular Bible is used by each incoming chief of staff at swearing-in ceremonies.

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