Evangelical leader Franklin Graham praised Vice President Mike Pence for defending religious freedom at Veterans Affairs hospitals in a recent speech, where Pence said, "Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones."
In an Aug. 29 post on Facebook, Rev. Graham wrote, "'VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.' Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the American Legion’s 101st National Convention yesterday about all that this administration is doing to help our nation’s military veterans."
"He also addressed the issue of a current lawsuit in New Hampshire to remove the Bible of a World War II POW from a VA hospital’s 'missing man' table," remarked Graham. "Vice President Pence said, '…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. We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith. And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays!'"
"I appreciate your boldness Vice President Pence," said Rev. Graham. "We are grateful to you and President Donald J. Trump for consistently defending our religious freedoms."
During the Obama administrations (2009-2016) there were reports of some VA facilities restricting religious freedoms. For instance, on Dec. 24, 2013, the Associated Press reported that the Charlie Norwoord VA Medical Center had "prevented a group of high school students from singing some songs to veterans at the Augusta [Georgia] facility. The students from Augusta's Alleluia Community School were prevented from singing traditional holiday songs such as 'Silent Night' and 'O Come All Ye Faithful.'"
"Hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell said in a statement that military service members represent people of all faiths," reported the AP. "He said that VA rules on 'spiritual care' are in place out of respect for every faith."
In April 2016, the Washington Examiner reported, "Department of Veterans Affairs officials removed Bibles from memorials in three VA clinics dedicated to Vietnam veterans who were taken prisoner or went missing in action, a move that is prompting a protest from congressional Republicans."
In an April 29, 2016 letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and then-Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) asked why "Bibles have been removed from Missing Man Table displays at multiple Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics around the country, including in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio and Houston, Texas."
"It is our understanding that the individual facility directors at the three VA clinics made the decision to remove the Bibles following complaints issued by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation," wrote the congressmen. "[T]he Establishment Clause ensures both that the government does not show preference to a certain religion, and that the government does not take away one’s ability to practice religion."
"In 2014, the Navy Exchange Service Command issued a memo for the removal of Bibles in Navy Lodge guest rooms following a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation," reads the letter. "The Navy reversed course and announced that the Bibles would be replaced. Similarly, the Establishment Clause does not require that you remove Bibles from the Missing Man Table displays. The mere presence of a Bible coerces no one."
At the Manchester Veterans Affairs hospital in New Hampshire there is a "missing man" memorial table that includes a Bible. In May, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, headed by Michael Weinstein, filed a federal lawsuit to have the Bible removed. The litigation is ongoing.
“That sectarian Christian Bible bolted down to that POW/MIA table at the Manchester NH VAMC is a grotesque gang sign of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism, exceptionalism and supremacy, indeed a middle finger of unconstitutional repugnance to the plurality and separation of church and state guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Weinstein told the Military Times.