The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced it has updated its policies "permitting religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and non-discrimination."
The department's move aims to simplify and clarify the VA's policies on religious symbols, and spiritual and pastoral care, which have been interpreted in different ways at various VA facilities across the country in recent years, leading to much confusion.
The changes to the policies went into effect at all VA facilities on July 3. They will help ensure that patrons within the VA have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels as requested and protect representations of faith in publicly accessible displays at facilities throughout the department, according to a government press release.
The changes include:
- Allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities.
- Allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols, and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.
- Allow VA to accept donations of religious literature, cards, and symbols at its facilities and distribute them to VA patrons under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.
"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 US Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department."
Bible Returned to 'Missing Man' Table in VA Hospital
In May, First Liberty Institute, a non-profit, religious liberty law firm, sent a letter to the VA urging a policy clarification after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed a lawsuit challenging a POW/MIA Remembrance display at the Manchester VA Medical Center that includes a Bible. First Liberty's client, the Northeast POW/MIA Network, is the organization responsible for creating and maintaining that POW/MIA remembrance display.
The Bible in question was returned to the display after the hospital received many complaints from patients and their families asking that the Bible be brought back. The Bible was returned with an apology by Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The new policy now in effect at all VA facilities was a bit of good news to Mike Berry, director of military affairs at First Liberty.
"This new VA policy is a welcome breath of fresh air," he said. "The Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of religious displays with historic roots such as those commonly found in VA facilities. We commend the VA for taking this necessary and positive action."
As CBN News reported, the US Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles.
This includes the following values: a display that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols, and practices; respect and tolerance of differing views; and endeavors to achieve inclusivity and non-discrimination.