Story justifying VA Bible placement on ‘Missing Man’ table is false premise

Bible on display is not a war relic as stated by NH POW organization that placed the display table at Manchester VA.

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A Missing Man display at the Manchester VA includes a personal Bible, which triggered a lawsuit. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH –The story used to justify the placement of a Bible on a Prisoner of War/Missing Man Table at the Manchester Veterans Medical Center turns out to be false. The Bible placement resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which triggered a change in Department of Veterans Affairs policy allowing open displays of religious artifacts.

The placing of a Bible in a federal facility was justified before the change in V.A. policy on the basis that it was not a “religious” object but an historic artifact, and thus exempt from the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against favoring one religion over another. This angle, apparently crafted by Department of Veterans Affairs lawyers, was necessary as a Bible clearly is a religious object. It has now been revealed that the Manchester VAMC and VA lawyers used a legal argument based on fantasy.

In an interview with Manchester Ink Link publisher Carol Robidoux, Bob Jones of the POW/MIA Network claimed that the Bible had been with World War II veteran when he was in a German POW camp.

“The Bible came from Herk Steinberger. It’s the Bible he had while locked up in a prison camp. He escaped after 18 months and made it through enemy lines, and that Bible was with him, all the way. It’s important, not because it was used as a religious symbol. But it was a symbol of freedom, of family, of hope, of America. He had to keep it hidden. If they’d have found it, they probably would have taken it away, or shot him or something.”

Jones went on to say. “It didn’t matter if you were a Jew or an atheist or a Catholic, that Bible meant something to everyone in that camp.” The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Manchester VAMC used Jones’s story to justify the Bible placement after it originally was removed when the MRFF objected to it.

The Bible was returned to the POW/Missing Man table in a large locked plexiglass box on the grounds that it was not a religious item but an historical artifact

The gist of the arguments by Jones and the VA before the recent Supreme Court Bladensburg Cross decision was that this Bible was not a religious object, as it has been to war. In truth, it had not. The historical nature of the cross, as opposed to its religious nature, was used to justify it as a secular object that did not violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That the Bladensburg Cross was a venerable historic artifact trumped its religious nature.

The claims that the VA Bible in the Box is “historic” have now been proven to be false.

New Hampshire Union Leader article on 100-year-old veteran Herman “Herk” Streitburger published July 21 contained only one reference to the object that has roiled the VA for months. Streitburger said in the interview that it is a family Bible. At no time in the article does he claim that he had it with him while he was a prisoner of war.

Union Leader staff reporter Shawne K. Wickham responded to an inquiry on this discrepancy between Bob Jones’ claim and Streitburger’s recollections by confirming that the Bible claimed to be on his person during his POW ideal actually is a family Bible and was not on his person during the war

“Never said he had it with him,” Wickham said. “His mother gave it to him after he got home safe.”

The Manchester VAMC had yet to comment at the time of publication of this story.

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Jon Hopwood

Jon Hopwood is a freelance writer from Manchester.