Bible to be replaced by journal on POW/MIA tables at Lexington VA facilities Skip to content

Bible to be replaced by journal on POW/MIA tables at Lexington VA facilities

Proselytizing in the military continues to be a problem. But at least in the VA facilities in Lexington, KY, the right outcome finally happened.

As I wrote last week, in a post titled “VA medical center petulantly removes ENTIRE ‘missing man’ table rather than remove Bible from it!,” a VA medical center in Kentucky had removed its entire POW/MIA, or “missing man,” table display from its lobby rather than simply removing the Gideons “New Testament — Psalms and Proverbs” from the table, which was all that a group of twelve veterans wanted the facility to do.

Those veterans had come to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation(MRFF), and, on their behalf, MRFF’s Mikey Weinstein fired off an email to Russell Armstead, the executive director of the Lexington, Kentucky VA Health Care System, in which he demanded that this exclusively Christian book be removed from the table, citing the VA’s own regulations that prohibit the display of items promoting one religion. Such permanent displays of items promoting one religion aren’t even allowed in VA facility chapels, let alone a VA medical center’s lobby.

The next thing MRFF heard, and saw in the photos sent by one of the veterans, was that rather than just removing the exclusively Christian Gideons book from the table, which, as I wrote in my previous post, would apparently have been too much for their Christian nationalist sensibilities to bear, the facility’s staff removed the ENTIRE table display!

This was NOT what the veterans wanted! As one of them wrote in an email to MRFF:

“… we wanted to stop the government from proselytizing, not to stop the government from honoring those who remain missing in action and those who have fallen. It is too easy to remove material from a solemn memorial that suggests those who practice Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, non-faith traditions, other monotheist or polytheist beliefs, and even several forms of Christianity (e.g., Catholicism, Latter Day Saints, Christian Scientists, etc) are unacceptable members of the Veteran community who are undeserving and unworthy of remembrance. The ‘leadership’, however, made their position clear. They value proselytizing above and beyond all else, including honoring those who came before and those still yet to come.”

As we usually do here at MRFF, after I wrote my post about the whole table being removed, we sent it out in an email blast to MRFF’s mailing list. We also, of course, sent that email blast to the executive director of the Lexington, Kentucky VA Healthcare System, Russell Armstead, and, lo and behold, today Mr. Armstead replied to it, and in the best possible way. In a letter attached to his reply, he wrote (emphasis added):

“In consultation with the Office of General Counsel, Office of Resolution Management, Diversity, and Inclusion Southeast District Field Office, Chaplains Service and in accordance with VA Directive 0022-Religious Symbols in VA Facilities, Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination, Religious Exercise in the Workplace, the New Testament Book has been removed from the table. We are standardizing the Missing Man Table displays across the Lexington Health Care System to ensure consistency and rendering of honor. All table displays within VA Lexington Health Care System will contain the following: small table, white tablecloth, single rose, vase, yellow ribbon, slice of lemon, salt, bread plate, glass, candle, empty chair, and a journal.”

You can read Mr. Armstead’s whole letter here.

Mr. Armstead also took the time to respond with a similar letter to an email written to him by a former AD and evangelical Christian Reserve Army chaplain, current DoD-approved ecclesiastical endorsing agent, and MRFF supporter, who wrote in his email that he “was stunned that you have removed a very meaningful display honoring POW/MIA service-members at the VAMC Lexington (Troy Bowling Campus) merely because conscientious veterans have asked that a New Testament not be displayed to serve as representing the faiths of all service-members.”

MRFF commends Mr. Armstead for his decision to do the right thing and honor ALL veterans in the VA medical facilities under his control. It is much appreciated by the group of veterans represented by MRFF, as it will surely also be by many other veterans who receive care at the other facilities in the Lexington VA Health Care System.

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Written by Chris Rodda. Cross-posted from Daily Kos.



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