Vice President Mike Pence on Aug. 28 reiterated his support for religious freedom at a speech in Indianapolis and denounced a lawsuit challenging a Bible display at a New Hampshire veteran’s hospital. He said that this administration would always stand up for religious freedom over political correctness.
“We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith,” Pence said in an address to the American Legion National Convention. “And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: ‘The Bible stays.'”
Pence continued, “And as we meet the healthcare needs of our veterans, let me make you another promise: This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well.”
“You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a Bible that was carried in World War II from a Missing Man Table at a VA hospital in New Hampshire,” Pence told the crowd. “It’s really no surprise because, under the last administration, VA hospitals were removing Bibles and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct.”
“But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.”
The Bible became part of the missing man table honoring missing veterans and prisoners of war (POW) at the entrance way of the Manchester VA Medical Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs said the table was sponsored by a veterans group called the Northeast POW/MIA.
Bob Jones, a Vietnam Veteran active with Northeast POW/MIA Network, said the group set up the display with a Bible donated by a 95-year-old local former POW.
Air Force veteran James Chamberlain, through his lawyer, Lawrence A. Vogelman, has now filed a federal lawsuit against the director of the New Hampshire veteran’s hospital in order to get the Bible removed.
The lawsuit states that under the First Amendment “that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others.”
It asks the Court to order the Bible to be removed, and to prevent it from going back up in the future, and to have all legal fees and costs covered.
In the shadow of the lawsuit, the Veterans Affairs Department, echoing the Trump administration’s stance on religious freedom, made changes to its policies to protect religious liberties.
“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 VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”
In an interview with The Washington Times in his office at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Wilkie said the Obama administration erred in trying to eliminate religious symbols from the veterans health care system.
“The last administration … had a very a historic approach [to veterans],” Wilkie said. “They did not know the makeup of the force. They did not know the history of this country when it came to religious foundations, the religious support for those in uniform.”