The Northeast POW/MIA Network is an organization with the goal to “heighten public awareness to the plight of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.” As part of this mission, this group sets up displays with physical reminders that are meant to cause visitors, patients, and employees to pause, reflect, and remember those who are prisoners of war and who are still missing in action. The group currently has a display at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire that has recently come under attack because it includes a donated Bible.
Since the Vietnam War, our nation has maintained the sacred tradition of setting a separate table in countless Department of Defense and VA facilities to honor POW/MIAs. The table is decorated with several items, each carrying symbolic meaning used to help remember those who were captured or declared missing. A 2016 Veterans Administration memo states that when a VA facility permits a POW/MIA Remembrance 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.”
At the Manchester VA Medical Center, the NE POW/MIA Network donated such a display. A local WWII veteran and former prisoner of war in Germany, Hank Streitburger, donated a Bible to be included in the display.
It was then that the outside activist group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), sent a letter to the hospital claiming it is unconstitutional for the Bible to be included in such displays.
Though MRFF claims the display of a Bible is illegal, VA policy says that as long as the facility director approves, outside groups are welcome to put up or maintain a display just like this, including displays of religious content. First Liberty sent a letter encouraging the VA to abide by its current policy, and remember the service and sacrifice of Prisoners of War such as Hank Streitburger.
“If outside activists want to desecrate this POW/MIA display they will have to come through us,” says Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute’s Chief of Staff and Director of Military Affairs.
In May, a local activist, with the help of MRFF, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the display.
In response, Berry added, “POW/MIA Remembrance displays have a long, cherished history in our nation. Veterans organizations like the Northeast POW/MIA Network should be able to honor and remember those killed, captured or missing with a display that includes a Bible donated by a WWII veteran that represents the strength through faith necessary for American service members to survive.”
Until early July 2019, VA policy guidance delegated the discretion to authorize such displays to individual VA facility directors, leaving it possible for some VA facilities to authorize POW/MIA remembrance displays that include Bibles and some not. But after First Liberty Institute urged Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to issue a policy applicable to all VA facilities that permits the inclusion of a Bible in POW/MIA remembrance displays, the VA announced directives “permitting religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for Veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and non-discrimination.”
“This new VA policy is a welcome breath of fresh air,” Berry said.
In the meantime, First Liberty is intervening in the case to defend the display of Herk’s Bible against MRFF’s attack.
For Immediate Release: 8.16.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, email@example.com
First Liberty Institute Comes to Defense of POW/MIA Remembrance Table at New Hampshire VA Hospital
Religious liberty law firm seeks to intervene in lawsuit to remove Remembrance Table at Manchester, New Hampshire VA Medical Center
Manchester, NH—First Liberty Institute announced that it is seeking to intervene on behalf of the Northeast POW/MIA Network (the Network) in defense of its POW/MIA Remembrance Table at the Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MVAMC). A local veteran, supported by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), filed a lawsuit against the MVAMC earlier this year because it allowed the Network to assemble a Remembrance Table that includes a Bible. The action will be coordinated in New Hampshire by Jeremy Eggleton of Orr & Reno, P.A., as local counsel.
“The MRFF picked a fight with the wrong veterans,” said Michael Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “Removing the Bible that a World War II POW donated for display at a VA hospital would be a cruel insult and dishonor our veterans. The Germans confiscated religious books from POWs during World War II. We’re not about to let the MRFF do the same thing to our clients.”
In July, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it updated and clarified its policies “permitting religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities to protect religious liberty for Veterans and families while ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination” after First Liberty sent a letter urging the VA to issue such a clarification.
The Bible included in the display at the MVAMC was donated by former U.S. Army Air Corps Technical Sergeant (TSgt) Herman “Herk” Streitburger, of Bedford, NH, who was held captive in a German Prisoner of War camp during World War II. The POW/MIA Remembrance Table at the MVAMC was assembled by First Liberty’s client, the Northeast POW/MIA Network.
Our nation has long maintained the sacred tradition of honoring POW/MIAs. Over the course of decades, the Remembrance Table tradition has become ubiquitous at Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs facilities. The table is decorated with several items, each carrying symbolic meaning used to help remember those who were captured or declared missing. Historically, the Bible is included in the display to symbolize the strength gained by faith that helps those captured or lost.
About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is a non-profit public interest law firm and the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.
To arrange an interview, contact Lacey McNiel at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 972-941-4453.
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