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Nativity scene at Guantanamo triggers controversy

Dec. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A photo provided to Navy Times shows a Nativity scene in the Gold Hill galley at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
A photo provided to Navy Times shows a Nativity scene in the Gold Hill galley at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Courtesy of the Military Religious Freedom Foundat)
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Service members stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have sought the help of an advocacy group to bring down two Nativity scenes in on-base galleys and relocate them to the on-base chapel.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation received an email Monday night signed by 18 active-duty service members protesting the Nativity scenes set up at the Guantanamo’s Gold Hill and Seaside galleys, according to foundation president Mikey Weinstein.

In a photo sent to Navy Times by Weinstein, the Gold Hill galley appears to be decorated with banners reading “Merry Christmas.”

“Our local military family encompasses many faiths and beliefs to include Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, Buddhist, Agnostic and other denominations,” the email to MRFF states. “By placing these displays in prominent common areas, the impression is that one faith is better than others, and that the military institution singularly promotes Christianity.”

Weinstein sent a statement to senior Pentagon officials Tuesday morning but had not received a response as of Tuesday afternoon.

“ MRFF is demanding that the wholly unconstitutional Nativity scenes and other sectarian messages be taken down immediately from the Gold Hill and Seaside gallies [sic] at GTMO,” Weinstein’s email to the Pentagon reads. “Of course, they can be put up at places that are constitutionally allowable such as the installation chapel facilities.”

Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman, said concerns such as this are handled on a case-by-case basis by leaders of involved command. Calls to public affairs officers on Guantanamo and at Navy Installations Command were not immediately returned.

Christensen stressed that DoD does not “endorse” any religion.

“We work to ensure that all service members are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion — in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems; and in ways that are conducive to good order and discipline; and that do not detract from accomplishing the military mission,” he said in a written statement.

Weinstein said one service member who brought the issue up with a superior officer was told, “We don’t need any troublemakers here. Why don’t you just go over to Subway?”

Guantanamo’s dining choices also include KFC, Starbucks, McDonald’s and Taco Bell, said Weinstein, locations where service members have been told to eat if they are uncomfortable with the Christmas decorations in the galleys.

“The religious climate was made very clear when we received our initial in-processing brief,” the email sent from service members to MRFF said. “One of our senior command team members briefed that their relationship with God was placed higher than even their relationship with their family.”

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