O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
With the date of the very first Federal Court hearing for the ‘POW-MIA Table Bible Case’ in Concord so close now (10 a.m. EDT, Sept. 25, 2019, I thought it might be a useful exercise to make some of the salient facts crystal clear in this unfortunately contentious matter.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) is proud of all 17 of our courageous military veteran clients for whom we are providing civil rights advocacy in this much-publicized clash of Constitutional church/state separation. MRFF is especially proud of one of them — Mr. James Chamberlain, a devout Christian and former USAF KC-135 pilot who has shown enough brilliant integrity and sterling guts to stand up and be the named plaintiff in this litigation.
MRFF is likewise tremendously grateful and proud of Mr. Larry Vogelman and his terrific colleagues at the venerable Nixon Vogelman law firm in Manchester who answered MRFF’s call for litigation help and are superbly spearheading the actual litigation in this matter, pro bono to boot.
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. 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!
So does Mr. James Chamberlain and lead litigator Mr. Larry Vogleman!
While some incorrectly, disingenuously and, yes, even dishonestly argue that by demanding that the Bible be removed from the POW-MIA Table, the MRFF is attempting to suppress religion, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the MRFF is defending the rights of all POWs-MIAs–and by extension all current service members who may one day become prisoners or missing–to not be falsely represented.
Another way of describing the Biblical sin of “bearing false witness” is to claim someone is something that they clearly are not. The litigation plaintiff in this case being represented by Mr. Vogelman, and the other 16 armed forces veterans MRFF is otherwise advocating for in this matter, are insisting that lies not be told about them or their comrades in arms — namely that ALL POWs-MIAs are Christians who gained moral or spiritual strength from the Bible and their faith.
The World War II Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and the Korean War Memorials — all on the National Mall in our nation’s capital in Washington D.C. — are totally devoid of Christian (or any religious) symbolism FOR A REASON; because they represent millions of veterans from those conflicts who hale from a literal GALAXY of diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds. It would be manifestly wrong and shameful, indeed utterly unconstitutional and illegal, for there to be a single Christian cross at these sites (without symbols showing all other possible religious and non-religious views) because they are on Federal land being stewarded by a State Actor; the Veterans Administration.
The Constitution and its enormous body of construing Federal caselaw strictly bar actions that could be perceived as establishing a national religion and doing so would presume that ALL honored by these memorials were Christian. Allowing this Christian Bible to be the ONLY religious text displayed on that POW-MIA Table would be no more appropriate than if every physical representation of a soldier from those conflicts was ONLY a white male. In fact, the Korean War Memorial shows statues of soldiers from very diverse ethnic groups, and beside the Vietnam memorial is a statue of soldiers also displaying ethnic diversity.
To those who have gallantly and honorably served but may not be adherents of the majority Christian faith — or might be from a particular Christian sect that does not approve of the displayed version of the Bible in the Manchester VA Medical Center or the display of a Bible at all — walking in for medical treatment and seeing this display is akin to viewing and being assaulted by 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.
Moreover, 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. Unless it is a non-governmental, private event, with genuine voluntary attendance, the government cannot and should not presume to represent ANY group by a single (even majority) symbol or model.
Seriously, just how hard is this to understand?
Our nation’s veterans are not all white, male, heterosexual, and Christian.
When in this diverse environment of American military veterans, and at ceremonies of import and remembrance, many instead choose to call for a “moment of silence” to be used individually for whatever best suits one’s religious or non-religious views. That’s appropriate, and the MRFF supports such moments.
The physical analog at a POW-MIA Table to a “moment of silence” is simply nothing — no religious book, no Bible — at all.
Veterans Administration, remove that Bible and Honor Them All!
Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send your thoughtful submission on a topic of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “The Soapbox.”
Mikey Weinstein is Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation/