Skip to content

Christmas, Bible controversies prompt VA policies for 'inclusive' religious liberty

Free World Class Education
FREE Catholic Classes

By (CNA/EWTN)
7/10/2019 (1 week ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

New policies from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs permit religious literature, symbols, and displays at VA facilities in a way that protects the religious freedom of veterans and families while "ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination," the department has said after some controversies over Christmas decorations, Christmas caroling, cards, and other religious displays.

Highlights

By (CNA/EWTN)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
7/10/2019 (1 week ago)

Published in U.S.


Washington D.C., (CNA) - "We want to make sure that all of our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said July 3.

The changes will help ensure consistent compliance with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he said.

The policies will allow religious content to be included in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities "in appropriate circumstances," the department said.

They will "allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA." Further, they will allow the VA to accept donated religious literature, cards, and symbols and to distribute them to VA patrons "under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them."

The announcement linked to the U.S. Supreme Court's June 20 decision allowing a Peace Cross war memorial to remain on public land and to be maintained by public funds in Maryland.

The July 3 statement from the VA's Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said the changes aimed to "simplify and clarify" policies regarding religious symbols and spiritual and pastoral care, which have been "interpreted inconsistently" at VA facilities. Previous interpretations resulted in "unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays."

Earlier this year, a lawsuit challenged a Bible that was part of a "Missing Man" table display set up to honor prisoners of war and missing soldiers, shown at the entrance of the Manchester Veterans' Administration Medical Center in New Hampshire. The display, sponsored by an outside group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network, used a Bible donated by a World War II veteran who possessed it while he was held captive.

The lawsuit was filed by a Christian U.S. Air Force veteran after 14 veterans and patients of the medical center, of various religious backgrounds, filed complaints with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

After the complaints the Bible was initially removed, but the medical center received numerous complaints from patients and their families who asked that the Bible be put back. After seeking legal counsel, the medical center decided to put the POW Bible back on display, said Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Cashour apologized to those who were offended by the facility's "incorrect" removal of the Bible.

The new nationwide VA policies were welcomed by Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for the First Liberty Institute, which represented Northeast POW/MIA Network in defending its display's presence at the VA facility.

Berry said the new policy is "a welcome breath of fresh air."

"On the eve of our nation's Independence Day, this is the perfect time to honor our veterans by protecting the religious freedom for which they fought and sacrificed," he said. "The Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of religious displays with historic roots such as those commonly found in VA facilities," he added.

The policy change drew criticism from Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

In a July 3 statement, Weinstein said the policy change was "nothing more than a transparent and repugnant attempt to further buttress and solidify fundamentalist Christianity as the insuperable official religion of choice for the VA, our Armed Forces, and this country."

Weinstein claimed the VA announcement was "both tragic and predictable in this hyper-dangerous era of an ignorant, fundamentalist Christian lapdog cum coward as our Commander in Chief."

He objected that the policies were "clearly based" on the Supreme Court's "idiotic decision" regarding the Peace Cross.

The VA's new policy announcement linked to news stories about various restrictions and bans that have drawn controversy.

A VA hospital in Georgia barred high school Christmas carolers from singing religious songs. The hospital required them to sing from a list of 12 Christmas songs its pastoral service deemed appropriate. The ban was enacted on the grounds that each veteran had the right to be protected from unwelcomed religious material.

In other facilities across the country, VA officials have barred gifts wrapped with wrapping paper or gift bags that used the words "Merry Christmas."

A Dallas VA medical center refused a delivery of children's handwritten Christmas cards because they used phrases like "Merry Christmas" and "God Bless You," Fox News reported in 2014.

In November 2015, a VA medical center in Virginia backed away from an earlier announcement that it would not allow Christmas trees in public areas. It said it would allow the trees "so long as they were accompanied by the respective symbols of the two other faiths that celebrate holidays during this holiday season - namely symbols commemorating Hanukkah and Kwanzaa," the Salem VA Medical Center public affairs officer said, according to the Virginia NBC television affiliate WSLS.

The controversies had already resulted in some changes.

Department of Veterans Affairs guidance released in 2016 said that once a VA facility director allows holiday singing in a designated location, the department "must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group or individual generally or in its holiday songs."

The 2016 guidance said that Veterans Health Administration facilities may receive cards and gifts with religious messages for distributions to patients and residence in accordance with their individual preferences.

It also allowed veterans' groups to set up displays with religious items on VA property.


Comments


More U.S.

Planned Parenthood eschews federal funding to continue abortion referrals Watch

Image of

As a new regulation takes effect, barring Title X recipients from making abortion referrals, Planned Parenthood has reportedly decided to ... continue reading


Villanova historian says Chaput, Cordileone, and Strickland are 'devout schismatics' Watch

Image of

A Church historian at Philadelphia's Villanova University has said three U.S. bishops are "devout schismatics" who try to diminish the ... continue reading



Religious persecution is a global problem, Pence and Pompeo tell Ministerial Watch

Image of

Religious persecution is a concern for the entire global community, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a ... continue reading


Priests and sisters arrested with protestors at immigration demonstration on Capitol Hill Watch

Image of

A group of Catholics were arrested at the Russell Senate Building on Capitol Hill on Thursday during a peaceful protest organized as a ... continue reading


Wheeling-Charleston Diocese launches new financial accountability plan Watch

Image of

 In the wake of reports of financial and sexual misconduct on the part of former Bishop Michael Bransfield, the Diocese of ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier Hi readers, it seems you use Catholic Online a lot; that's great! It's a little awkward to ask, but we need your help. If you have already donated, we sincerely thank you. We're not salespeople, but we depend on donations averaging $14.76 and fewer than 1% of readers give. If you donate just $5.00, the price of your coffee, Catholic Online School could keep thriving. Thank you. Help Now >

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Information
Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Services
Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Education
Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Socials
Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.

Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.