September 2019 Church & State Magazine - September 2019

Veterans Administration Issues New Policy On Display Of Religious Symbols

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued a new policy that allows religious symbols to be displayed in VA hospitals and other facilities under certain conditions.

The policy says that religious symbols may be included as part of a holiday display because such practice “follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols, and practices that simply recognize the important role that religion plays in the lives of many Americans.”

The policy goes on to say, “Such displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others.”

But some critics say VA displays are favoring Christianity. In New Hampshire, a veterans’ hospital in Manchester includes a table display meant to commemorate men and women who died in action. It includes a Bible encased in a Plexiglas box, but contains no other religious texts or symbols. The display is currently being challenged in court.

In formulating the new policy, VA officials pointed to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case from Maryland regarding the government’s ownership and display of a large Latin cross. The cross, erected in 1925, was originally intended to honor veterans who died during World War I, but in the 1980s it was rededicated to memorialize the fallen of all wars. Opponents argued that the cross, as a Christian symbol, could not stand for all war dead, but the high court ruled in American Legion v. American Humanist Association that the cross may stand.

“These brand new VA policies – clearly based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent, idiotic decision in the Bladensburg Cross case – are 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,” said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

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