Vice President Mike Pence voiced his support of keeping the Bible on display at a New Hampshire veteran’s hospital that is the center of a First Amendment lawsuit challenging its presence, stating that under the current administration, “VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.”
“We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith,” Pence said in a speech at the American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis. “And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is this: ‘The Bible stays.'”
The Bible was brought to the veteran’s hospital as a part of the “missing man” table that was established by the Northeast POW/MIA Network veteran’s group, who placed it at the entranceway of the Manchester VA Medical Center to honor missing veterans and POWS.
U.S. Air Force veteran James Chamberlain filed a federal lawsuit in Concord in May against the center’s director, Alfred Montoya, saying that the Bible’s presence at the facility is a violation of the Constitution. The First Amendment indicates “that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others,” according to the lawsuit documents.
Chamberlain said in the lawsuit that the table should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their religious beliefs. The lawsuit also indicated that the original POW and missing veterans’ tribute table tradition had previously been established by a group of Vietnam combat pilots and did not include a Bible.
According to military tradition, a “missing man” table is usually set up near military dining facilities to honor fallen or missing service members. The table is set for one person and typically features a white tablecloth, single rose, a lit candle. In some displays, a Bible is also on the table to represent spiritual strength.
Pence told those in attendance at the American Legion National Convention that the lawsuit is no surprise because under the Obama administration, “VA hospitals were removing Bibles” to be “politically correct.”
The Vice President also said, “But let me be clear: Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.”
The New Hampshire VA Medical Center initially removed the Bible in January after it received complaints from 14 patients from a variety of religions, who said that having the Bible being part of the display violated their First Amendment rights. The Bible reappeared as part of the display in February and was enclosed in a clear case that was secured to the table. A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said the Bible was put back as part of the display on the table in response to an outpouring of complaints from veterans and others that it was missing.