Pence distorted “Christian persecution” tale, FFRF contends

Pence

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is taking the vice president to task for a string of misleading statements during a recent American Legion National Convention speech.

Speaking before the gathering on Wednesday, Aug. 28, Vice President Pence said:

This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well. You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a bible that was carried in World War II from a missing man table at a VA hospital in New Hampshire. There’s a lawsuit underway. It’s really no surprise because under the last administration, VA hospitals were removing bibles, and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct. But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones. We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith, and my message to the New Hampshire VA Hospital is: The bible stays! 

Pence thought these remarks significant enough to tweet a video clip, with the tweet text paraphrasing his comments.

Pence’s statements were troubling on several counts.

First, he misrepresented the lawsuit that he referenced. Actually, an Air Force veteran is suing to remove a bible from the POW/MIA table at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire. In the lawsuit itself, the veteran explains that he is “a devout Christian,” and “as a Christian, he respects and loves all his military brothers and sisters and does not want to be exclusionary by the placement of the Christian Bible.” In other words, this is not an anti-Christian attack. It’s simply one patriot’s admirable attempt to uphold the Constitution.

Second, the tradition of POW/MIA tables was started by Vietnam combat pilots as a memorial to all who have served, regardless of religious belief, and did not customarily include a bible. The original POW/MIA table at the Manchester VA Medical Center did not contain a bible; it was added later. The VA has secured a special place of prominence for this bible while denying other religious groups equal opportunity to place their own texts on the table. To defend the Manchester VA Medical Center’s actions is to defend Christian privilege, not religious freedom.

Third, contrary to Pence’s claims, the previous administration did not ban Christmas carols. In reality, a VA center in Augusta, Ga., asked high school carolers not to sing overtly religious Christmas carols in the public areas of the hospital. This VA hospital should be commended; instead, Pence distorted the hospital’s honorable intentions in an effort to fearmonger and peddle a Christian persecution narrative that is demonstrably false.

Finally, the VA policy that Pence complained about was most recently revised in July 2008, not during the Obama administration, as Pence implies, but actually under George W. Bush’s administration. The VA’s 2008 policy reflects the mandates of our godless Constitution. VA hospitals are not, and never have been, “religion-free zones,” as Pence claimed. Veterans are free to practice their own religions in their own ways; the VA respects that freedom by not endorsing any religion. The 2008 policy drew the line in the correct place, but even the new policy states that passive displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others. The bible display at the Manchester VAMC fails even under this newly watered-down policy, because it elevates Christianity above all other belief systems.

“No Christian is prevented from the free exercise of their religion when a bible is not displayed on a public table or religious carols are not sung in a public space,” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew L. Seidel concludes his letter to the vice president. “Those Christians can still read their bible and hear those carols, it’s just that the VA is not imposing the bible and carols on everyone else. Sadly, it seems that the lack of imposition, which is required by our Constitution, is precisely what upsets you. And for that, you should be ashamed.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a nationwide nonprofit dedicated to fighting Christian Nationalism and its push to undermine the religious freedoms of all Americans, including the more than 110 million who either practice a minority religion or no religion at all.

Image via Shuttertock by Mark Reinstein

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.

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