U.S. Navy Cancels Nativity on Bahrain Military Base After Atheist Complaint
The U.S. Navy directed service members serving in Bahrain to cancel and dismantle a live nativity after receiving a complaint from a military atheist group who said the manger scene endangered Americans serving in a Muslim country and violated the U.S. Constitution, Fox News reports. The live nativity was a long-standing tradition at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain that featured the children of military personnel dressed as shepherds and wise men along with Mary and Joseph. It was part of a larger celebration that included a tree lighting, Christmas music and photographs with Santa Claus and a camel. The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers filed a complaint with the Navy's Inspector General, arguing that it promoted Christianity as the "official religion of the base" and also put service members in danger because the local Muslim population could "see the U.S. military as a Christian force rather than a secular military." A statement the Navy sent the MAAF reportedly read: "Upon further review, the CRP [Command Religious Program] will be removing the Living Nativity Program from the general base secular holiday festivities and co-locating it more appropriately with some of our other private religious and faith-based observances at the chapel at a separate time." Some service members in Bahrain called the cancellation "heartbreaking," and children who were supposed to act in the nativity were devastated. "Here we are serving in the Middle East, defending our country and other people's religions, and we couldn't understand why we can't enjoy our own religious freedoms," said one officer who asked not to be identified.