- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 22, 2019

A group of veterans in New Hampshire has filed a lawsuit to remove a Bible on display in the lobby of a VA hospital in the state’s largest city, Manchester.

The Bible, which is bolted inside a Plexiglas case, decorates a POW/MIA memorial table at the Manchester VA Medical Center. It belonged to a POW from World War II, and honors the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, the Bible’s supporters say.

But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group of religiously diverse veterans, objects to the placement of the sacred text in a public building, arguing that it amounts an establishment of religion by the government in violation of the First Amendment.

“The Christian Bible clearly doesn’t represent all of the myriad religious faiths and non-faith traditions of the U.S. armed forces veterans using the Medical Center and to presume that it does is quite blatantly unconstitutional, unethical and illicit,” said Michael L. Weinstein, whose group filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court of New Hampshire against the hospital.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Weinstein on Jan. 28 phoned an assistant to Dr. Alfred Montoya, the hospital’s director and a defendant in the lawsuit, and said 14 members of his group had complained about the Bible’s display in a lobby of a building owned by the federal government. The Bible was removed three hours later.

But, by Feb. 23, following an uproar from other veterans, the Bible was returned — this time, bolted to the table.

“The placement of the Christian Bible, here, is in violation of that fundamental proscription, that the government may not establish any religion,” says the lawsuit, whose plaintiff is Air Force veteran James Chamberlain.

Court papers filed Tuesday ask for a preliminary injunction against the VA and the removal of the Bible.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation claims a membership of 64,000 service veterans and counts members of various faiths under its roles and says the lead plaintiff is a devout Christian, according to the lawsuit.

In Washington, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs decried Mr. Weinstein’s group as being “known for questionable practices and unsuccessful lawsuits.”

Spokesman Curtis Cashour said the litigation is “nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community.”

“Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue,” Mr. Cashour said in an email to The Washington Times.

The battle over the VA Bible in New Hampshire echoes a conflict in South Dakota in April, when the Christian legal group First Liberty Institute intervened to pressure VA hospital officials in Sioux Falls not to accommodate requests from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to remove a Bible from a remembrance display case.

“We are pleased to see a growing trend of VA officials following the law by allowing the Bible to be displayed on POW/MIA remembrance tables,” First Liberty official Mike Berry said at the time.

First Liberty represents the Northeast POW/MIA Network, which donated the Bible to the Manchester VA hospital, and said the group should be able to include the Bible in a display representing the “strength through faith necessary for American service members to survive.”

A 2016 VA memo says that any religious or secular items on display at a POW/MIA memorial table must “remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group.” But Mr. Weinstein identifies the source of recent trouble with another event from that year.

“Since the latter part of the summer of 2016, when Trump became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, MRFF saw an almost immediate doubling of its client load,” he said.

This Washington Times news article originally published May 9, 2019.

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