This is an article by Steve Lowe. It appears in the current issue of American Atheist magazine. American Atheist magazine is available at Barnes & Noble and Book World bookstores in the U.S. and at Chapters/Indigo bookstores in Canada. Go to Atheists.org to subscribe or to join American Atheists. Members receive free digital subscription. It’s also available from iTunes.
Are you tired of always finding a Bible in your hotel room bedside drawer? It’s usually the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, provided free to the hotel by the religious organization The Gideons International. In exchange for the supply of free Bibles, the hotel agrees to have their staff place and replace them as part of their housekeeping duties. The Bibles are mostly taken for granted, expected by many to be there, and don’t usually provoke a complaint.
But routinely placing them in every room is a presumptive action by a hotel and an example of Christian privilege. It’s my opinion that if I, as an Atheist, ignore the Bible in the room, I’m complicit in the practice of religious favoritism.
So I do something about it. When I come across a Bible — or any religious book — in a hotel room, I personally take it to the front desk. I smile, shake the hand of the person behind the counter, and compliment them on something (the nice room, the helpful staff, etc.). If it’s the case, I mention that I’m a member of their loyalty program. I then ask to speak to the manager on duty. I do all of this in a friendly way, which establishes a cordial setting for what I do next, which is to ask, “Is this a hotel only for Christians?” or “Do you have a preference for Christians at this hotel?” or “Do you presume that I am a Christian?” The typical reply is, “No, why do you ask?”
“Well,” I say, placing the Bible on the counter, “I found this in my room.” The usual reply is, “Yes, we put those in all of our rooms as a matter of company policy.”
My response, always delivered politely, is to ask, “Why is there only a Christian religious book in the room? Does this hotel presume that all guests are Christian? Why not a Koran, and a Torah, and the Book of Mormon, and a book on Buddhism?”
At this point, they often apologize on behalf of the hotel and offer to take it off my hands. I give it to them and thank them, but I continue with the following points:
“The policy of placing only a Christian book in the rooms gives the impression that this hotel assumes that all guests are Christian, or worse, that it prefers Christian guests, or, even worse, that it thinks all guests should become Christians.
I do not rant or get angry. I want them to remember me as a reasonable guest with constructive feedback — the type of guest they want to come back.
In closing, I state exactly what actions I want them to take: “Thank you for listening to my feedback (keep smiling). I would like you to convey to your upper management my complaint and ask that they consider changing their policy and put no religious materials in the rooms. A Bible is not necessary, it’s off-putting to many guests, and even offensive to some. If this hotel wants to respond to the “needs” of some guests, I suggest having copies of several religious texts at the front desk, available upon request.” I leave on a cordial note by shaking their hand and thanking them for their time.
If, after my stay, I receive a standard email requesting feedback about my stay, I make these points again in writing. If I’m not asked for feedback, I go to their website and send the feedback myself, making sure to include any reference or confirmation number along with the dates and location of my stay. If there is no electronic option to do this, I mail a letter to the company headquarters.
I remember, not so long ago, when anyone who wanted a non-smoking room had to specifically request this in their reservation. When I make a hotel reservation these days, I request a “religion-free” room — one with “no religious materials in the room, please.” If I do find a Bible after checking in, I take it to the front desk and politely begin the whole thing over again, this time also asking why my request wasn’t honored.
Some Atheists leave a message inside the Bible for the next hotel guest. During our national convention in Memphis this year at the Peabody Hotel, Dan Ellis, American Atheists’ Regional Director for Utah, wrote “You don’t need ancient myths to be a good person” on his business card (see the photo below).
I think our ultimate goal should be to get hotels to change their policies and not place
Bibles or any other religious book in any guest room. Sheraton Hotels has already
adopted this practice. This can only be done by changing corporate policy, which
can only be changed when enough of these complaints reach the ears of the decisionmakers. We must raise the awareness of the negative business impact of this policy. And we must do it in a professional and constructive manner if we want to succeed.
Steve Lowe is a former Peace Corps volunteer and a graduate of the University of Virginia. He liberated himself from theophilia around 2001, when, after retiring, he had time to read and think about big things. He currently lives in Washington, D.C., and is a member of the Board of Directors of American Atheists.