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The Rise And Slow Demise Of Hotel Room Bibles

The Bible can be found in more than half of bedside tables in hotel rooms.

As frequent travelers know, or just about anyone who’s ever stayed in a hotel, you’re pretty much guaranteed some reading material in your room. 

The Bible can be found in more than half of bedside tables in hotel rooms. Largely thanks to Gideons International, which has donated over 1 billion Bibles worldwide.

But could hotel Bibles soon be a thing of the past? In February, The Washington Post published an article about hotel room Bibles, exploring why some hotel brands are moving away from them and others are just adapting.

Travel reporter Hannah Sampson wrote the article. She explains in some cases, there just isn’t a need for them. “As hotels are putting more money into good Wi-Fi, and rethinking kind of the connectivity of their rooms, there really doesn't need to be printed material, because people can call up any scripture, any text they need on their phone very easily,” Sampson says.

The concept of a hotel room Bible was born here in Wisconsin. Two traveling businessmen had to bunk together in an overcrowded hotel more than 100 years ago. The two men discovered they shared Christian values and decided there should be an organization to distribute religious material for travelers.

From that idea came Gideons International, which distributes Bibles to hotels, schools, hospitals and prisons around the world.

Despite the long tradition of hotel room Bibles, there are some who want a choice about whether or not they’ll be provided religious material in their room. Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has been working to get Bibles removed from hotel rooms.

Credit Freedom From Religion Foundation
Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation provides stickers to protest hotel room Bibles.

“They’ve written letters to hotel chains over the years asking them to remove literature from the rooms,” Sampson explains. “It's not that they don't want the hotels to have it at all, they just don't want it to be in the room without a choice. They want it to be like at the front desk, something you can opt into, but not something you have to opt-out.”

Some hotel brands have found a happy medium. Provenance Hotels offer a spiritual menu. Guests can call the front desk and ask for whatever religious scripture they like. “And then people don't have to feel like, 'oh, I don't agree with whatever is in this text and I don't want to see it,' they can really kind of look at all these options and decide if they want to welcome one into their room,” Sampson says.

While some hotel brands are making these changes to keep customers happy, Sampson says this trend is really about hotel brands adapting with the times.

“I just think hotels are really focused on the bottom line. I'm not sure they're worrying that much about offending people,” Sampson explains. ”And if they're not putting a Bible in, in many cases, it's just because they don't think people need it, and maybe there's not room for it.”

Becky Mortensen is WUWM's executive producer of Lake Effect.