- - Thursday, May 26, 2016

Some 41 members of Congress have asked the Veterans Affairs secretary to explain why Bibles have been removed from the “missing man” tables in several VA clinics.

One of the ways the nation recognizes prisoners of war and those missing in action is the Missing Man Table and Honors Ceremony, Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, and Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, said in an April 28 letter signed by 39 more lawmakers.

“The National League of POW/MIA Families provides a script for this ceremony and a description of the table,” the members said in their letter to Secretary Robert McDonald of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

A Bible, which represents “the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God,” is expressly requested to be part of the display.

However, officials in VA clinics in Houston and Youngstown, Ohio, and Akron, Ohio, as well as at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, have removed the Bibles from the displays, the lawmakers wrote.

“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, and that the November 7, 2014 Guidance on Religious Exercise and Expression in the VA Facilities and Property Under the Charge and Control of VA was used to justify the removal,” their letter said.

“We request an explanation as to why the Bibles were removed from the three VA facilities, as well as any policy that will be applied going forward, including a summary of who will be responsible for implementing it,” said the letter.

“The mere presence of a Bible coerces no one,” the letter said, noting that the Establishment Clause does not require government to “scrub all references of religion from the public square.”

Mr. Lankford and Mr. Forbes are co-chairmen of the Congressional Prayer Caucus; many of the lawmakers who signed the letter are part of the caucus. The lawmakers have yet to receive a response, a congressional aide said Tuesday.

According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, the Missing Man Table and Honors Ceremony has six empty chairs, representing the five branches of the military and civilians. The table should be round, covered with a white tablecloth, and have a single red rose, yellow ribbon, lighted candle, a copy of the Bible, a slice of lemon to symbolize the bitter fate of being captured and missing in a foreign land and a pinch of salt to symbolize the tears of the missing and their families who long for answers after decades of uncertainty.

A final element is an inverted glass, symbolizing the inability to share a toast with loved ones.

The “remembrance table” was started decades ago by a group of U.S. fighter pilots, dubbed “River Rats,” who flew dangerous missions along the Red River near Hanoi. When the pilots held a reunion, they set up a table for their missing or fallen comrades, and the idea became a tradition.

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