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FFRF gets VA center in W.Va. to remove cross (June/July 2023)

By Greg Fletcher

A VA facility in West Virginia got rid of a large cross from a screening room after FFRF objected on behalf of a veteran.

A disabled veteran informed the FFRF that on a March visit to the Louis Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, W.Va., they observed a large wooden Latin cross affixed to a mirror hanging on a wall in the Covid-19 screening room. The person had to undergo a screening prior to undergoing surgery at the hospital and explained to FFRF that the religious display made them “very uncomfortable” due to past religious trauma and abuse. Further, the person stated: “I fought for my country so that I, and others, would not have to witness state/church entanglement as a captive audience.”

Our Constitution’s Establishment Clause dictates that the government cannot in any way show favoritism toward religion, FFRF reminded the VA medical center.

FFRF Anne Nicol Gaylor Fellow Sammi Lawrence wrote to Louis A. Johnson Veterans’ Administration Medical Center Executive Director Barbara Forsha: “By displaying a Latin cross in a location that hospital patrons like our complainant will inevitably observe, the hospital signals blatant favoritism towards religion over nonreligion, and Christianity above all other faiths.”

FFRF asked that the medical center remove the cross from the Covid-19 screening room — and it graciously complied.

“The Latin cross has been removed, the employee has been counseled on the display of personal faith symbols, and the Executive Leadership Team is in the process of reemphasizing the importance of maintaining a professional atmosphere to all employees at Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center,” Forsha responded. “To the veteran patient who experienced the feelings of trauma caused by the Latin cross, we sincerely apologize. In addition, we are grateful for you bringing this to our attention, so that we were able to remedy this incident and ensure that future veteran patients find our hospital to be a safe and welcoming environment, regardless of faith or lack thereof.”