N.H. VA medical center removes bible from “missing man” table

A New Hampshire VA hospital has opted for a more inclusive “missing man” table display after FFRF intervened.

When a concerned veteran and patient of the Manchester VA Medical Center contacted FFRF to report that the center’s “missing man” table display honoring POW/MIA soldiers included a Christian bible, FFRF took action to ensure that non-Christian service members were being equally honored.

FFRF Associate Counsel Sam Grover wrote to the Medical Center’s Public Affairs Officer, Kristin Pressly, asking that the VA remove the bible from the display in order to eliminate any appearance of religious favoritism in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“Including the Christian holy book on a table meant to represent all POW/MIA service members sends the unfortunate message that the Manchester VAMC values Christian service members above minority religious and nonreligious ones,” Grover wrote. “The table should be a secular reminder of the sacrifice of all military members, not just those in the Christian majority.”

Grover also pointed out that, after receiving criticism from clients about the presence of unnecessary and divisive religious iconography on displays, “numerous VA centers have removed bibles placed on 'missing man' tables in recognition that the bible creates division between Christian and non-Christian service members, where no rift need exist.”

FFRF’s complainant confirms the bible has been moved from the display. While FFRF understands that the Bible has been moved to another location within the center, FFRF is satisfied that the center's POW/MIA display now honors all service members.

“It is laudable for the Manchester VA to choose to remove the bible from a display paying tribute to veterans,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Any government display honoring veterans must include those of minority religions and the 23 percent of service members who are atheists, agnostics or have no religious preference.”

Grover notes, “Far too often, minority religious and nonreligious service members must content themselves with memorials and displays that only recognize the work of their Christian counterparts.” On Wednesday, Feb. 27, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case over one such memorial, a 40-foot-tall cross in Bladensburg, Md. that, despite being the principal symbol of Christianity, is supposedly dedicated to veterans of “all wars.” FFRF filed a brief against the government-controlled cross.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with the purposes to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism. FFRF currently has 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 7,000 members who are active duty military or veterans.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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