Was the Veterans Administration on a Christmas jihad to bar Christianity from its hospitals and cemeteries?
“Congressman Jeff Miller says veterans administrators restricted the delivery of Christmas-specific cards, singing of Christian carols and the distribution of gifts wrapped in Christmas paper,” reports United Press International.
“Several incidents at Veterans Affairs medical centers over the holidays have prompted the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman to question whether VA has violated the civil rights of veterans in its care,” reports Military Times.
“Why did VA hospitals restrict and in some cases ban volunteers from bringing holiday cheer to patients? That’s the question Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) wants answered,” writes Todd Starnes of Fox News. “He’s the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he’s accusing the VA of disrespecting Christmas as well as censoring and obstructing volunteers bearing gifts and Christmas cards.”
“In taking it upon themselves to restrict Christmas cards, carols and gifts in certain locations, VA officials clearly ignored longstanding federal government traditions, basic common sense and possibly a 2011 federal consent decree that ordered VA not to ban religious speech,” Miller wrote in a letter to Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Because Christmas is a federal holiday and VA is a federal entity, VA patients, volunteers and veterans service organizations should be free to respectfully honor it without obstruction and censorship from VA,” he wrote.
But the problem is bad and getting worse, says American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger.
“Christians are more and more often targeted for censorship and restriction at VA facilities,” Dellinger said. “First of all, VA’s decision to prohibit the delivery of Christmas cards that mention Christmas is ludicrous. Second of all, VA has been down this road before, and recently. VA has been warned through a federal court decree to stop denying freedom of religious expression at its facilities. It’s pretty obvious the Dallas VA did not get that memo.”
And now the VA hospital in Dallas has admitted to “incorrectly”
rejecting Christmas cards from students at Grace Academy in Prosper, Tex.
“We regret that a misunderstanding of policy was communicated and will work towards ensuring no one is told that their religious cards for Veterans are not welcome,” director Jeffrey Milligan wrote in a letter to the Liberty Institute, a Christian advocacy group.
“In separate events at VA hospitals in December,” reported Military Times, “administrators limited private donors, schools and veterans organizations from delivering Christmas-specific holiday cards, singing religious carols publicly and delivering gifts wrapped in Christmas paper.
“The incidents sparked outcries from conservative groups and now have attracted the attention of at least two Republican lawmakers, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida and Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama. Each has sent letters to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki asking him to look into the incidents and provide copies of VA policies regarding the distribution of religious material and gifts.
The actions by the VA administrators “clearly ignored longstanding federal government traditions, basic commonsense and possibly a 2011 federal consent decree that ordered VA not to ban religious speech,” says Miller.
A 2011 ruling by a federal judge prohibited officials at a VA cemetery in Houston from “editing, controlling or excising” speeches at the cemetery.
“A veterans organization has called for a congressional hearing on certain activities at the Department of Veterans Affairs, alleging that the government entity is violating religious freedom,” reports Michael Gryboski for the Christian Post.
Retired Navy commander J.B. Wells, executive director of the Louisiana-based group Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc., says that “the curtailment of religious freedom is widespread within the Department.”
“Under the current administration, both VA chaplains and patients are
being prevented from exercising their rights to religious expression,” complained Wells.
Among the allegations, reports Starnes:
“The VA medical center in Augusta, Ga. Banned high school carolers from singing Christmas songs containing religious references in public areas of the hospital. The students declined to perform from a government-approved list of secular songs.
“VA officials in Iowa City, Iowa, told American Legion volunteers they could not hand out gifts to veterans if the wrapping paper included the words ‘Merry Christmas.’
“VA personnel in Montgomery, Ala., prevented a young woman from delivering gift bags to veterans because they included the words “Merry Christmas.”
“The Dallas VA medical center refused to accept the delivery of handwritten Christmas cards from local school children because the cards contained phrases like ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘God Bless You.’
Congresswoman Roby told Starnes she is “deeply concerned and horrified” about an incident that occurred at a VA hospital in her district.
There, 20-year-old Jordan McLendon made more than 100 gift and goodie bags for patients at the VA hospital in Montgomery. She showed up at the hospital on Christmas Eve but was turned away because the bags were marked with the words “Merry Christmas.”
“For the government to tell this 20-year-old woman that she can’t honor her grandfather by handing out gift bags is pretty outrageous,” Roby said. “This screams of Washington political correctness and the end result was a young woman turned away from handing out Christmas gifts to patients.”
Roby said people in her congressional district are “extremely upset” over what happened.
“Her intention was to provide some comfort and bring some cheer and joy,” the congresswoman told Starnes. “She knew that many of them did not have family members or would be alone.”
Roby said she personally called McLendon and promised to make sure this never happens again.
“We want to encourage our young people and adults alike to do these acts of kindness for other people,” she said. “We need to make this right.”
Meanwhile, Miller has launched a special tip line so that patients, staff and volunteers can report other acts of religious censorship.
“The VA did not provide comments on the incidents in Iowa City or Alabama,” says Starnes, “but they did weigh in on the incident in Georgia – with the high school carolers. Pay close attention to the last sentence:
“We welcome holiday music within our medical centers, and our Veterans and their families welcome the spirit and consideration of those who donate their time,” the statement read. ‘For carolers singing religious songs, we are happy to provide more private areas for groups to sing for Veterans who choose to participate.”
“A private area?” comments Starnes. “For crying out loud, the kids are performing ‘Away in the Manger,’ not ‘Debbie Does Dallas.’ I’m glad Rep. Miller and Rep. Roby are demanding accountability. It’s high time that somebody exposes the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed attempts to marginalize Christianity and take the Reason out of the Season.
“It’s enough to make you want to deck somebody’s halls.