MANCHESTER — The Veterans Administration said it will remove items representing different religious faiths placed Thursday next to a Bible on a POW/MIA table at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The Bible had prompted a lawsuit and more legal action is being threatened.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which was involved in the recently filed lawsuit, “welcomes the opportunity to challenge this flagrant violation of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state in federal court,” said founder Michael Weinstein.
A VA spokesman said groups and individuals must get permission from VA facilities to host displays. They can’t just walk up and add whatever they want.
“We will not tolerate interference with and/or alteration of approved displays — such as this Northeast POW/MIA Network-sponsored POW/MIA table — and as a result these items will be removed,” Curt Cashour, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said in an email.
The news came just hours after items representing various faiths were added to the table.
Weinstein said, ”As expected, the VA is unconstitutionally doubling down on its illicit promotion of fundamentalist Christian ideology at the total expense of the United States Constitution and the religious and non-religious beliefs of all veterans who do not subscribe to such an illegal and oppressive religious viewpoint.”
Earlier Thursday, Weinstein said books placed on the table included texts from the Jewish, Muslim, Mormon and Wiccan faiths “as well as a blank tablet on behalf of non-faith traditions such as atheism, agnosticism, humanism and secularism.”
An Air Force veteran, James Chamberlain, filed a lawsuit earlier this month looking to remove the Bible claiming it violated the First Amendment. The VA at first removed the Bible but later returned it to the table after the VA received complaints from veterans and others.
According to the federal lawsuit, 14 veterans — all patients at the medical center — made complaints to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation during the last weekend of January regarding the placement of a Bible on the display table, which was off to one side in the entrance lobby, the suit said.
Weinstein, whose civil rights advocacy group represents active military personnel and veterans, said one of those 14 veterans placed the new religious materials on the table Thursday.
Nine of the 14 veterans who complained describe themselves as Protestant or Roman Catholic, with the others practicing other faiths or identifying as atheist/agnostic, according to the suit.
Chamberlain released a statement Thursday saying the United States is the greatest country because of the freedoms citizens enjoy.
“One of these freedoms is the freedom to believe in any faith or no faith,” he said.
“The POW/MIA table was meant to honor all of our personnel who are prisoners of war and/or missing in action no matter what their religious beliefs or lack thereof,” he said. “The table, although filled with very meaningful symbolism, is not a religious memorial.”