Written by Don Byrd
Last month, the Veterans Affairs Department released a memorandum updating their religious liberty policy regarding such issues as holiday displays, prayer, and religious activity by outside groups in VA facilities and property. The new policy emphasizes that VA facility directors must remain neutral, once they approve certain activities, regarding the views expressed. Here is an example:
On VA property, events by outside groups or individuals, such as services, ceremonies, or demonstrations, are welcomed but must be authorized by the head of the facility . . . .
If a VA facility director authorizes an outside group or individual to perform holiday songs, similarly-situated groups or individuals also must be permitted to use the space for such activities. Once the director authorizes holiday singing in a designated location, VA must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group or individual generally or in its holiday songs (e.g., religious or secular). Directors are encouraged to seek advice from VA Chaplain Service in making these decisions.
At all times, the government must ensure that it does not act in a manner that would lead a reasonable observer to conclude that it is sponsoring, endorsing, or inhibiting religion generally or favoring or disfavoring a particular religion. The government must also ensure that it does not require or pressure its employees or others to participate in such activities or refrain from participating in such activities.
The memorandum expresses similar approaches to holiday displays on VA property and in VA facilities. It also discusses the propriety of prayer in services and ceremonies on VA property, which are permitted depending on the type of event and who requested the prayer. Invocations are not appropriate for “routine staff meetings.”
The Chaplain Alliance praised the new guidelines.