The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a case that could affect all government displays of religious symbols, including a battle now under way with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

 

(Image: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)

TYT Investigates

Govt. Refusing to Remove Bible from VA Medical Center Display

The Dept. of Veterans Affairs is refusing to remove a Bible now on official display at one of its medical centers, TYT has learned, just as the Supreme Court is about to hear a case involving government use of religious symbols.

The Manchester, NH, VA Medical Center was asked last month by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to remove the Bible, which was then part of a symbolic display honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action.

MRFF Pres. Mikey Weinstein told TYT the facility initially did remove the Bible, but placed it later in a display case where it remains. Weinstein said he was informed that the center has referred the matter to its legal counsel. Neither the center nor the VA responded to requests for comment.

The incident comes just as the Supreme Court is preparing to hear on Wednesday a legal challenge to the state of Maryland for maintaining a 40-foot-tall cross memorializing 49 local residents who died fighting World War One.

The case could add a new chapter to decades of legal back-and-forth over whether government use of religious symbols to serve secular purposes violates the constitutional ban on respecting an establishment of religion.

Weinstein said 14 veterans have discussed the New Hampshire Bible display with MRFF. “One of our 14 is having serious issues with suicide,” he said. “And this is pushing him closer.”

One veteran who uses the New Hampshire VA facility told TYT that he first noticed the Bible display a few months ago. He described himself as a Christian who occasionally attends church but does not consider himself devout.

He said that when he spotted the Bible, "I immediately thought about all my colleagues that I deployed with that didn't have any religion. I worked with a couple of soldiers who were of the Muslim faith and the Jewish faith and thought if I was them walking in here I'd really be insulted and put off. It's kind of in-your-face from a government building that takes care of us medical-wise."

The veteran, who shared records with TYT to document his background, said he has received treatment at the facility for a disability suffered during the Iraq War. He said he and his team had been forced to use a vehicle that lacked proper armor. (At the time, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, confronted by troops about the lack of up-armored vehicles, famously replied, “You go to war with the army you have.”)

TYT is not disclosing more specifics in order to preserve the veteran's anonymity. He said he wants to avoid alienating officials with oversight of potential future medical care.

A Bible, now removed, as it appeared on a "Missing Man" table at the Manchester, NH, Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

(Image: Photos courtesy of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.)

In an email exchange posted online by MRFF, an assistant to the facility’s director initially said that the Bible would be removed from the “Missing Man” table. Every item on such tables is intended to symbolize elements of what captured or missing soldiers endure.

“As a Marine, retired, and now a VA employee I hold this table and its significance close to my heart,” the email says. “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.”

Manchester, NH, Veterans Affairs Medical Center display case showcasing a Bible.

(Image: Photos courtesy of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.)

Weinstein, however, says the Bible then returned, now in a display case. He said if it's not removed, the MRFF expects to file suit. A picture provided by the MRFF shows the Bible in a display case facing people as they exit the facility.

The veteran confirmed that account to TYT. "Now it's in a more prominent location. Now, everybody who exits the VA, it's right there in your face," he said.

"I had heard through one of my colleagues that the Bible is back again, so I went to check it out. Seeing it in the display was kind of like a kick in the head, like, what the hell was that all about?"

Jonathan Larsen is TYT's managing editor. You can find him on Twitter @JTLarsen.

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