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, 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: 5.29.19
Contact: Lacey McNiel, email@example.com
Religious Liberty Firm Urges VA to Adopt Nationwide Policy Permitting Bibles in POW/MIA Remembrance Displays
First Liberty Institute represents POW/MIA Organization that Maintains Remembrance Table at Manchester, NH VA Medical Center under fire from anti-religion group
Washington, DC—First Liberty Institute sent a letter to Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie urging him to issue a policy applicable to all VA facilities that permits the inclusion of a Bible in POW/MIA remembrance displays. Current VA policy delegates the decision of whether to permit such displays to individual facility directors.
You can read the letter, here.
“With the stroke of a pen, Secretary Wilkie can help put an end to senseless and wasteful lawsuits like the one in New Hampshire that the current policy allows,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs for First Liberty Institute. “Our veterans and the organizations that serve them deserve a uniform policy that allows Americans to honor and remember their service and sacrifice at all VA facilities. We appreciate the VA’s strong stand in defense of the remembrance display at the Manchester VA Medical Center, but now is the perfect opportunity for a nationwide policy protecting the Bible’s inclusion in POW/MIA displays at all VA facilities.”
In its letter, First Liberty states, “Although the inclusion of a Bible in a POW/MIA remembrance display is perfectly permissible under the U.S. Constitution, current VA policy guidance delegates the discretion to authorize such displays to individual VA facility directors. As a result, it is conceivable that some VA facilities will authorize POW/MIA remembrance displays that include Bibles, some will authorize POW/MIA remembrance displays that do not include Bibles, while others still might not authorize any displays at all.”
First Liberty Institute’s client, the Northeast POW/MIA Network, is the organization responsible for creating and maintaining a POW/MIA remembrance display at the Manchester VA Medical Center that includes a Bible donated by World War II Prisoner of War, Herman “Herk” Streitberger. That Bible is now the subject of a lawsuit by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF).
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About First Liberty Institute
First Liberty Institute is 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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