The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced on July 3 revisions in its policies to allow religious symbols, literature and displays at VA facilities.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the changes aim to simplify the department’s policies regarding religious symbols, and spiritual and pastoral care across all VA facilities, reports Australian news website, Sight Magazine.
We want to make sure that all of our Veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. —Sec. Robert Wilkie, Department of Veterans Affairs
“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,” said Wilkie.
The revised policies permit “religious content in publicly accessed displays at VA facilities.” Patients are allowed to be provided with religious materials during treatment at VA facilities or visits to VA chapels. The VA can also “accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and distribute them to VA patrons under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.”
The policy changes came after a US Air Force veteran filed a complaint and sought the removal of a Bible displayed on a POW/MIA table at a VA facility. The veteran argued that the Bible excludes fellow veterans who are not Christians.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which received similar complaints from 14 other veterans, criticized the revamped rules, reports Catholic News Agency.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the group, 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 that the VA changed its policies following a recent Supreme Court ruling which allowed the Peace Cross to remain at the World War I monument in Bladensburg, Maryland. However, the VA maintained that the case “reaffirmed the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles.”
Meantime, non-profit organization, First Liberty Institute, welcomed the VA’s move. Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs, said the revised policy is “a welcome breath of fresh air.” He added that, “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.”