Astonishing as it may seem, given that today is Christmas Eve, a story is making its way across the web that at the Fayetteville, North Carolina Veterans Hospital, a Viet Nam Veteran has been arrested for continually violating VA Regulation of placing a Bible and a Cross on the Altar within the facilities Chapel.
From a December 2007 article appearing at Military.com, written by Joseph Kinney, Neutralizing the VA, certain “religious specific” articles were ordered removed from the Chapels by officials within the Veterans Administrations, not because Veterans are complaining, but in “anticipation” of potential complaints.
Ironic is that while the Bible and Cross, symbols of Christianity must be removed, a Catholic Crucifix, kneeler and Catholic Bible (same as a Protestant Bible, but with four more books) remain. Are we to believe now that Catholics are not Christian? Isn’t Catholicism the oldest form of Christianity?
Yet, those items may remain and only Protestant items must be removed or hidden from view when the Chapel is not in use for specific religion services.
As I’m sure most know, Chapels are very small rooms set up in various facilities for patients and families to seek a moment of peace, solace and comfort through prayer, often when a loved one is fighting for their life or when the patient feels the need for that solace.
When my ex-father-in-law was undergoing a major life threatening operation at the Portland, Oregon VA Hospital, the family gathered in their Chapel to pray and seek guidance. They were Catholic and I am a Protestant, but no one cared what symbols were present, only that the family sought spiritual refuge within the Chapel.
A retired VA Chaplain, Archie Barringer, who retired early from his position due to the VA’s Bible ban, spoke out in an article appearing in the March 06, 2008 Fayetteville Observer.
Barringer said of the ban,
“I felt that it was a slap in the face to our veterans and their families and a betrayal of the trust of the people in Fayetteville and Cumberland County who have supported that chapel over the years. And I would not be a part of it.”
He also said that, in the 5 years he was chief chaplain at the hospital, no patients or family members had complained that the chapel was oriented toward Christianity.
He believes a separate room for non-Christians to seek their solace or pray is the proper answer.
About 200 Veterans protested at a West Virginia VA Facility over this move. Debra Voloski, Public Affairs Officer at that facility said,
“We are looking at ways to meet the intent of the directive that makes our chapel an all-faith chapel. We want it to be able to be utilized by a veteran or staff member of any faith.”
And somehow, removal or hiding of Christian symbols, in a predominantly Christian area, is supposed to accomplish that?
Since my own time in the U.S. Army and in dealing with the Veteran’s Facilities, I have never heard of any one of any faith being denied use of a Chapel. Regardless of faith every single Chaplain I have ever met is there to offer comfort as they can to any one in need, without regard to their faith or beliefs.
Ms. Voloski went on,
“Our VA is becoming more diverse and we want to recognize that need. However, this is a predominantly Christian area and it has been difficult, to say the least, to get some to understand what we are really trying to do.”
I must admit, I am unable to grasp just what it is the Veterans Administration is “trying to do” here too.
Sandra Long, wife of a Veteran, feels this VA policy takes away from the rights of Christian Veterans. She said,
“Those who do not believe should have their freedom, but Christian veterans should also have the freedom and the right to use the name of Jesus, and to also have our cross.”
Interim Director at this facility, Karin McGraw says,
“There has been no ban on Bibles being available in the chapel for use by in-patients. There has been no ban on the singing of Christian hymns in our facility.”
No, it is just that the bereaved and discomforted must seek out someone and request one be taken out of hiding during a time of spiritual need, when they may most need such an item, instead of one being readily available.
Adding insult to injury, the Veterans were asked to leave the property when media showed up to interview the Veterans. Al Strassburger, a World War II and Korean War Veteran said,
“We were told to get off our own property. Our tax money pays for this property. We fought for this country and who are they to tell us where we can meet.”
Welcome to the America we fought for, Al.
A Muskogee Phoenix article addressing this issue at their VA Facility expressed veterans outrage also. Hospital official there claim there is a “misunderstanding” and that “Patients can request a Bible or other text to keep in their room while they are in the medical center.”
Citing a portion of government handbook on Chapels at VA Facilities, officials stated,
“Such chapels are appointed and maintained as places for meditation and worship, and when not in use, they must be maintained as religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith group ...,” the official adding, “An atheist can go in there and sit in a quiet place.”
And, Bibles and Crosses must be hidden away for that? Would they somehow interrupt their sitting in a quiet place? Is tolerance so one-sided now that we must be tolerant of any and every thing, while others show absolutely no tolerance at all for us?
If an atheist did choose to enter a Chapel for peace and quiet for a moment, would that preclude a Christian from entering and bringing out those items? If not, why must they be hidden away at all?
To me, it would appear that should an atheist, or person of non-Christian faith utilize a Chapel, Christians must remain out until such time as they were finished since Christian articles would offend that person should they be seen.
Yet, no Christian I know of would demand others stay out of a Chapel when they were using it if the others were atheist or non-Christian. They would only expect that person not interrupt their prayers.
As our country moves further and further away from the Christian Foundation that has seen us through many troubled times, it is especially disturbing that we should see those who fought for our freedoms restricted in expressing their freedom of belief while confined to a Veterans facility.
As Cathy Roberts, the wife of an American Legion Post Commander puts it,
“If my husband is in that hospital in a critical condition, I don’t want to pick up a People magazine. And I don’t want to have to go find somebody.”
The First Amendment to our Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” As I see it, government is violating the second portion by instituting the bans and restrictions on the free exercise of Christianity only.
It is high time that the so called "Tolerant" people within our society began showing some tolerance of their own. Veterans Hospitals are not the place to push your Separation of Church and State issues.