VA will now allow religious symbols to be displayed at its hospitals

Abbie Bennett
July 03, 2019 - 2:11 pm

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The VA is overhauling its policies that govern religious and spiritual symbols at its hospitals and other facilities.

That means religious symbols and other content could be publicly displayed at VA hospitals.

The changes are intended to "protect religious liberty for veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and non-discrimination." 

The move is meant to "simplify and clarify" the department's policies on religious symbols and spiritual care, the VA said in a news release. Those policies have so far been interpreted "inconsistently" at VA facilities in recent years, resulting in "unfortunate incidents." 

The VA was referring to incidents such as medical centers in Augusta, Ga., Iowa City, Iowa, Montgomery, Ala. and Dallas, Texas being accused of allegedly blocking volunteers from trying to help veterans celebrate Christmas in various ways. 

Beginning July 3, patients and families at VA hospitals will have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels "as requested," VA said, and the revamped policies will "protect representations of faith" in public displays. 

“We want to make sure that all of our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal. These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S.Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”

The new policies not only allow religious symbols to be displayed, but it also allows patients and guests to be provided literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to the hospitals.

The VA also will now accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and will distribute them to patients "under appropriate circumstances" or upon request. The VA did not say who would determine what "appropriate circumstances" means. 

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