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Veterans Administration cites cross ruling to support new religious display policies

by | Jul 9, 2019

New policies issued by the Veterans Administration regarding religious displays at VA facilities suggests the Supreme Court’s Bladensburg Cross ruling is already having a substantive impact, less than two weeks later. Secretary Robert Wilkie issued directives on July 3. Stars and Stripes reports:

Religious symbols will now be allowed in public areas of VA facilities, including lobbies, public entrances, security and information desks and nursing stations. In directives sent to VA facilities nationwide, Wilkie clarified that displays ‘should respect and tolerate differing views’ and ‘should not elevate one belief system over others.’

A new Spiritual and Pastoral Care policy issued at the same time allows patients to request and receive religious literature, and it allows for the VA to accept donations of  religious literature and distribute it to patrons “under appropriate circumstances.”

In a press release, the VA explained that the changes were necessary because the department’s policies “have been interpreted inconsistently at various VA facilities in recent years, resulting in unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays,” including a Christmas tree display in a Virginia facility. In the Bladensburg cross decision, the explanation continues, the U.S. Supreme Court “reaffirmed the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles.”

The VA did not directly address whether these new policies would impact controversial Bible displays I have been following. One in a New Hampshire facility is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in May. Last year, the Bible in a similar display in Wyoming was replaced with an interfaith text following complaints.

In an op-ed discussing the Bladensburg cross ruling, BJC Executive Director Amanda Tyler emphasized that the particular cross at issue there was a “special case.” For more on the case, check out BJC’s fantastic resource page, which includes a new podcast from Tyler and BJC General Counsel Holly Hollman discussing the decision.