A Bible display at a VA hospital sparked a lawsuit. These veterans want to get involved.

Abbie Bennett
August 19, 2019 - 2:10 pm

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A Bible on display at a Veterans Affairs medical center has sparked a lawsuit. Now, the veterans group that put it there is trying to get involved. 

The Bible, carried by a World War II Prisoner of War was added to the Missing Man Table at the hospital by the Northeast MIA/POW Network. 

This May, however, James Chamberlain, a US Air Force Veteran filed a lawsuit saying including the Bible on the Missing Man Table violates the Constitution, the Associated Press reported. 

The First Amendment says "the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others," the lawsuit reads, according to AP. 

In the lawsuit, Chamberlain says he is a "devout Christian" and argues that the table should be a memorial to all who served -- no matter their beliefs. Chamberlain also says in the lawsuit that the original table tradition does not include a Bible as one of the items, AP reported.

The hospital previously removed the Bible after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation objected, saying it received complaints about the Bible from 14 patients at the hospital. 

In February, the Bible reappeared at the display. 

Earlier this summer, the VA announced that religious symbols could be publicly displayed at its hospitals and the changes were intended to "protect religious liberty for veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and non-discrimination," Connecting Vets previously reported.

Now, the Northeast POW/MIA Network is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit over the Bible, as first reported by the New Hampshire Union Leader. The lawsuit names the VA, but does not include the veterans group.

The Northeast POW/MIA Network is seeking intervenor status, which, if granted by a judge, would allow them to participate in the lawsuit. The request for intervenor status does not mean the group will be a defendant or complainant in the suit, but allows them to be involved in the judicial proceedings as a third party, according to U.S. statute. Any existing party in the lawsuit, such as Chamberlain or the VA, can object to the group being added as a third party.

A pretrial hearing on a motion to dismiss the lawsuit is expected Sept. 16, according to the U.S. District Court calendar. 

Calls and emails to the organization Monday were not immediately returned.

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.