MANCHESTER — Ahead of a hearing later this week on a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed over a former POW’s Bible being featured in a lobby display at the Manchester VA hospital, the group behind the complaint is using a Queen City billboard to ask the Bible be removed.
The Missing Man Table memorial at the Manchester VA hospital honors missing veterans and POWs. A federal lawsuit filed in May by James Chamberlain, a U.S. Air Force veteran, against outgoing medical center Director Alfred Montoya says it should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their beliefs. Last week Montoya was appointed the next director of the VA health care system in Connecticut.
A hearing to dismiss the lawsuit is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in federal court in Concord.
The Bible featured in the Missing Man Table display at the Manchester VA Medical Center was donated by a Bedford man, now 100, who was a former POW in a German prison camp. He did not carry it during the war, but was given the Bible by a family member after he escaped captivity and returned home.
In May, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), based in New Mexico, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Chamberlain claiming the inclusion of the Bible in the display is unconstitutional.
VA officials initially removed the Bible from the display, then reversed course and returned it after an outcry from other patients.
Last month, Vice President Mike Pence sent a message to the Manchester VA Medical Center during a speech at The American Legion’s national convention in Indianapolis.
“You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a Bible that was carried in World War II from a Missing Man Table at a VA hospital in New Hampshire,” Pence told the veterans in Indianapolis. “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,” said Pence, an evangelical Christian. “And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays.”
On Monday, a billboard paid for by MRFF went up above 1356 Elm St. in Manchester saying, “Attention: Trump-Pence-VAMC Remove the Bible Honor All Veterans.”
Michael Weinstein, founder and president of the MRFF, issued a statement Monday about the billboard and Wednesday’s hearing.
“While the majority of our MRFF client-complainants in this Manchester VA Medical Center case are Christians like Mr. Chamberlain, both Protestants and Roman Catholics, many are not,” said Weinstein in a statement. “Among those 17 MRFF clients who are not Christians are those honorable veterans who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Native American, Atheist/Agnostic, Humanist, and Secularist. You see, my friends, that’s exactly the point. While the majority of American veterans may indeed be followers of the Christian faith, multitudes are not. MRFF demands that the VA honor them all.”
Weinstein also said for veterans who are not of the Christian faith, viewing a Bible as part of the display is akin to seeing a “You’re not welcome” sign.
“It would be like marking all graves of deceased service members with a marble Christian cross, regardless of the decedent’s religion or lack thereof,” said Weinstein in a statement. No other symbol on the POW-MIA Table is exclusionary in any sense. Lemon? Salt? A flower? Adding a Bible to this tableau is like forcing all to join in a single, Christian prayer during a national or official event — or even to start the day at a public school.”