by WorldTribune Staff, August 28, 2019
The current secretary of Veterans Affairs slammed the Obama administration for attempting to all but erase religion from the veterans’ health care system, a report said.
“The last administration … had a very ahistoric approach [to veterans],” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in an interview with The Washington Times published on Aug. 27. “They did not know the makeup of the force. They did not know the history of this country when it came to religious foundations, the religious support for those in uniform.”
Wilkie accused the Obama administration of banning the Army Chaplain Corps from distributing religious materials, including Bibles, Torahs and Korans, to veterans, even those who request them.
The Obama White House even went so far as to prohibit the singing of Christmas carols in VA hospitals, Wilkie said.
“The underlying notion here is that there is a group of people who want to eliminate all indicia of religion and spirituality from the public square,” Wilkie said. “And they’ve used the military as their hobby horse, and that, to me, is a great disservice to the vast majority of those who served.”
In May, a group of veterans, with support from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, filed a lawsuit to remove a Bible from a New Hampshire VA hospital, saying it violated the separation of church and state.
“The placement of the Christian Bible, here, is in violation of that fundamental proscription, that the government may not establish any religion,” the lawsuit states.
The Bible was displayed on the VA hospital’s POW/MIA memorial table. It was donated by a World War II veteran who had survived a German prisoner of war camp.
Wilkie told The Washington Times that the spirituality of veterans is inseparable from the task of healing, especially during a crisis of depression, addiction and suicide.
“What I consider to be the bizarre argument that men and women who’ve been sent to the most dangerous corners of the Earth, the most miserable places on the planet, would walk by a Bible on a table dedicated to missing men and go to pieces by the sight of that Bible when so many of them have been under fire in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia, [just] goes counter to all logic,” Wilkie said.
Michael L. Weinstein, a lawyer and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said his organization is looking forward to its day in court.
“I find it very ironic that VA Secretary Wilkie believes that upholding the separation of church and state regarding religious displays in VA facilities represents the interest of only a narrow number of people,” Weinstein said. “The Veterans Administration is what is called a ‘state actor’ and therefore must completely comply with the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of our U.S. Constitution.”
Wilkie noted that the Army Chaplain Regimental Corps crest reads “Pro Deo et Patria (For God and Country).” He said any decision to remove the Bible in New Hampshire would diminish that motto.
“For veterans, we’re not going to deprive them of that [spiritual] comfort during what is often a very, very trying time,” he said.