Earlier this year, the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire put up a “Missing Man” table display in the front entrance. These displays are dedicated to prisoners of war or those missing in action, and they’re fairly commonplace at military bases. But this particular display had a Bible on the table, suggesting that POW/MIAs were only Christian, and that atheists and people of other faiths didn’t make the same sacrifices as other soldiers.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation first noted the problem in late January. MRFF said 14 members, all of whom were patients at that VA and wished to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal, contact them with their concerns. Founder Mikey Weinstein said he called up Corey Beem, Acting Staff Assistant to the Director, and urged him to reconsider the display. Within hours, he heard back:
I want you to know that you can inform your clients that the Manchester VAMC has the utmost respect and admiration for all Veterans, regardless of their beliefs. As such we are going to be removing the Bible from the display to better serve all Veterans.
Great! Problem solved!… Except by late February, the Bible had returned to the display. This time it was in a “locked plexiglass box.”
At this point, a fifteenth person contacted MRFF to complain. James Chamberlain, an Air Force veteran who now belongs to the United Church of Christ, also received medical care from that VA, but he didn’t mind going public. By late March, his attorney had sent a letter to the MVA’s director Dr. Alfred Montoya asking, once again, for the removal of the Bible from the display.
This time, an attorney for the VA responded and said it would remain in place because the Bible placement “was not unconstitutional.”Chamberlain, though his lawyer Lawrence A. Vogelman, has now filed a federal lawsuit against Montoya in order to get the Bible removed. He asked nicely, but that didn’t work. Now it’s time for the courts to decide if that Bible display is legal.
The lawsuit asks the Court to issue a preliminary injunction removing the Bible, a permanent injunction to prevent it from going back up in the future, all legal fees and costs, and anything else the judge deems appropriate.
Incidentally, the reason the Bible even went up with that display is because the guy who set up the table is a religious supremacist, who wrongly thinks we live in a Christian Nation.
Not so fast, says Bob Jones, a Vietnam Veteran active with Northeast POW/MIA Network, the group that set up the display with a Bible donated by a 95-year-old local former POW.
“I forget; when we took our oath to the military, did it say ‘God’ in it? How about when we get paid, on that money, it says ‘in God we trust.’ They don’t turn in their money, though, right? So now there’s a Bible on the table and they don’t like it. You know what? They are free to believe what they want to believe, and so am I. It’s called freedom,” Jones says. “The Bible stays.”
That’s… a weak argument. We forced religion in the government before, so we’ll do it again now! That’s not freedom. That’s the majority pushing its religious will on the minority.
It shouldn’t take this much work for the hospital to do the obvious. Since the hospital’s director won’t fix this on his own, it’s time for a judge to force his hand.
***Update***: MRFF says it plans to fly a plane over the Manchester VA this morning with the following message: “VAMC — Honor all POW/MIA — Remove Bible.” A mock-up is below.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)