MANCHESTER, N.H. — A Bible has been returned to a Missing Man table at a veterans hospital in New Hampshire after it was initially removed following a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
“[A]s of Monday morning, the 18th, the Bible will be in a plexiglas case that was donated by a Navy veteran and will be attached to the table. The case will have the name of the POW the Bible belonged to before being given to a Navy veteran, member of Northeast POW/MIA Network and Purple Heart recipient,” states an update from Bob Jones of the Northeast POW/MIA Network published by the Laconia Daily Sun.
MRFF says that it received 14 complaints about the inclusion of the Bible on the foyer-area table at the Manchester Veterans Medical Center. The organization reached to the facility in January to request that it be removed.
“[U]nconstitutional POW/MIA displays like the one solely featuring and highlighting the Christian New Testament at issue here in your VA Medical center in Manchester, NH should ‘Honor Them All’ and not just those VA patients of yours who are Christians,” wrote President Mikey Weinstein in one email.
Corey Beem, the acting staff assistant to the director of the hospital, responded hours later to advise that the Bible had been relocated.
“Please know that as a Marine, retired, and now a VA employee, I hold this table and its significance close to my heart,” he stated. “I want you to know that you can inform your clients that the Manchester VAMC has the utmost respect and admiration for all veterans, regardless of their beliefs. As such we are going to be removing the Bible from the display to better serve all veterans.”
The Bible was then moved to a display shelf, which displeased MRFF and its complainants as being an even more prominent location.
Jones, who is a part of the organization that set up the Missing Man table, thought the decades-old Bible should remain as a part of the display.
“When we took our oath to the military, did it say ‘God’ in it? How about when we get paid, on that money, it says ‘in God we trust.’ They don’t turn in their money, though, right? So now there’s a Bible on the table and they don’t like it. You know what? They are free to believe what they want to believe, and so am I. It’s called freedom,” Jones told Manchester Ink Link. “The Bible stays.”
Earlier this month, the Texas-based First Liberty Institute contacted the Manchester Veterans Medical Center on behalf of the POW/MIA Network to contend that there is nothing unconstitutional about including the Bible on the Missing Man table.
“The VA is absolutely within the law in its decision to allow the display of a donated Bible,” Michael Berry, director of military affairs, said in a statement, noting that the Bible belonged to U.S. Army Air Corps TSgt. Herman “Herk” Streitburger, who was a captive in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II.
First Liberty Institute also noted that the Veterans Administration outlined in a 2016 memo if a government facility allows the setup of a POW/MIA table, it must “remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group, to include the use of any religious or secular items in the display.”
As previously reported, according to the National League of POW/MIA Families, the Bible is traditionally present at Missing Man tables, and “represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.” The display additionally includes a place setting, a rose and a candle.
Now, Jones says that the Bible is back.
“[T]he Bible was used as a symbol of freedom, hope, home, love [and] togetherness by all POWs, no matter what religion or no religion at all,” he stated. “The motto of the Northeast POW/MIA Network has always been faith, trust, truth, responsibility and accountability.”
As previously reported, Weinstein has a long history of objecting to the promotion of Christianity in the military. In 2013, he asked Department of Defense officials to punish superiors who attempted to proselytize their subordinates.
“It is a version of being spiritually raped and you are being spiritually raped by fundamentalist Christian religious predators,” Weinstein asserted.
He also appeared before Congress a year later, where he was questioned by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., about his hostility toward Christianity.
“On June 16, 2013, you said, ‘Today we face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nations armed forces.’ Did you you make that quote?” Forbes asked.
“I did,” Weinstein replied frankly.
In 2015, he wrote a blog post calling for the ousting of Christian chaplains who disagree with same-sex “marriage,” and also demanded that Satan, Allah Odin and others be added to a “God bless the military” display in Hawaii.
Last year, he unsuccessfully opposed the inclusion of the Bible on a Missing Man table in Okinawa, Japan, stating that the “Christian Bible stands out like a tarantula on a wedding cake.”