Fox News: VA Hospital Chapels Told to Hide Religious Symbols

Monday, 02 Jun 2014 05:15 PM

By Lisa Degnen

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The Department of Veterans Affairs, embroiled in a scandal over patient wait times, is also accused of deliberately hiding religious symbols in its chapels.

Fox News Insider reports that statues of Jesus and Mary, a cross, and an altar at a VA hospital chapel in Iron Mountain, Michigan, were hidden behind a curtain.

A VA hospital spokesman told Fox News radio host Todd Starnes that they were still trying to figure out what to do about the chapel's stained glass windows.

Richard Riley, pastor of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, told Fox he was "exceedingly disappointed."

But the decision to put the icons out of view was not a local one. The report says the National Chaplain Center conducted an on-site inspection and determined "the hospital’s chapel was not in compliance with government regulations."

Riley posted photos on Facebook.

"We are not a politicizing kind of church," Riley told Starnes. "But we also believe Christians have constitutional rights. We have a right to voice our opinion. Just because you are a Christian doesn't mean you lose your First Amendment rights.

"Christianity, not only globally, but particularly in the United States, is really under attack," he said. "Christianity is coming under some horrendous conflict from the media and to some degree from our own government.

"We need to be active. As Christians, we don't throw our First Amendment rights out the door."

Fox reports a similar situation occurred at Fort Meade Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Fort Meade, S.D. There was concern over a makeover to the facility's chapel.

Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council told Starnes that hiding Christian icons is an "assault on the Christian faith."

"It's an egregious violation of tradition, as well as religious liberty," Boykin told Fox. "Most of these hospitals were built at a time when there was no issue associated with public displays of Christianity."

Starnes reports that Washington set the policy in 2008 and mandates that chapels at VA hospitals "must be maintained as religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith tradition."

It isn't the first time Christianity has come under fire at the VA. Last Christmas, a group of Georgia high school students were given a list of government-approved carols to sing at a local VA hospital, and a VA hospital in Texas would not accept cards that said "Merry Christmas."

"From our point of view, the purpose of Christmas and its carols is to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of," Augusta's Alleluia Community School Principal Dan Funsch told CBS Atlanta.

"We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places."

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