VA center in W.Va. removes cross after FFRF objects

A VA facility in West Virginia got rid of a large cross from a screening room after the Freedom From Religion Foundation objected on behalf of a veteran.

A concerned community member and disabled veteran informed the state/church watchdog 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.

“The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment requires government neutrality between religions, and between religion and nonreligion,” 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.”

This religious display needlessly alienates and offends veterans who do not subscribe to Christianity, FFRF added. In fact, nearly 30 percent of military personnel identify as nontheist, humanist, or are simply unaffiliated with a particular religion.

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,” Executive Director Forsha recently 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.”

FFRF is always happy to be of constitutional assistance.

“We’re glad that VA officials realized that a glaring imposition of a religion on patients is wrong — and took action to remedy the situation,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members across the country, including members in West Virginia. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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