Manchester VA Sued over Bible on POW/MIA Table
As previously noted, both the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation claimed they contacted the VA Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire, to demand a Bible be removed from the POW/MIA display in the foyer. The Bible was removed “out of an abundance of caution,” but the backlash — and a subsequent legal review — led the VA to apologize and return the Bible, which was donated by World War II POW and Army Air Corps TSgt Herman “Herk” Streitburger [emphasis added]:
“Manchester VAMC officials temporarily removed the Bible from the display out of an abundance of caution,” VA spokeswoman Kristin Pressly said in a statement provided to USA TODAY. “Following that removal, Manchester VAMC received an outpouring of complaints from Veterans and other stakeholders – many of whom dropped off Bibles at the facility – in protest of this action.”
Pressly said that after consulting with lawyers, the facility determined the Bible will stay and “remain indefinitely as part of the missing man display, a secular tribute to America’s POW/MIA community.”
“We apologize to the Veterans, families and other stakeholders who were offended by our incorrect removal of this Bible,” she said.
Note that this apology came from Kristin Pressly, speaking for the VA, not the Manchester medical facility.
Now, James Chamberlain, described as a “devout Christian” and “Air Force veteran,” has filed a lawsuit (PDF) to force the Manchester VA to remove the Bible.
In an interesting twist, Chris Rodda (never known for truth or accuracy) and a few websites said the MRFF “filed a lawsuit,” yet that doesn’t appear to be accurate. The MRFF is not party to the suit, and the lawyer appears to be a local town barrister with no public affiliation to Weinstein or his crew. The lawsuit mentions the MRFF, but only in an irrelevant aside. (Prior lawsuits from the MRFF were often filled with unrelated facts and accusations.) Though he is clearly acting as the “publicity rep” for Chamberlain, it would seem Mikey Weinstein is keeping the actual lawsuit at arm’s reach, as if to profit from it without bearing any loss when the lawsuit fails — as it surely will.
As if to prove his role as social media coordinator, Weinstein’s group made a point of saying the story of the lawsuit had gone “major media viral” as it has now been copied to all the major news channels — clearly indicating Weinstein doesn’t know what “viral” means. If you publish a press release and have it go out on the wire, the story isn’t “viral.” But it boosts Mikey’s ego to think it so.
Weinstein is also ignoring the fact much of the press reporting has an incredulous tone, setting Mikey up as a veritable “Florida man.” He may think any publicity is good publicity, but Weinstein’s ego may not be able to handle the blowback.
While carefully keeping skin out of the game, Weinstein presumably hopes to gain were the lawsuit to prevail. He would have, in that case, a loaded gun to go after every other POW/MIA display in the country and tell them to remove Bibles. Regrettably for Chamberlain, it’s probably the worst example he could have chosen, since the Bible on the POW/MIA table comes from an actual POW. While Chamberlain’s lawsuit complains the table should “be a memorial to all who serve,” that isn’t what it is, by definition. The table is a memorial to POWs and MIAs. Chamberlain — whose bona fides are oddly left out of the complaint — appears to be neither, while an actual POW donated the Bible.
Still, Weinstein does assume some risk, because when the lawsuit fails — and it will — he’ll have to overcome that ruling to continue his annual fundraising on the backs of the POW/MIA tables. In other words, everyone will stop listening to him — which means they’ll stop sending him money.
In brief, a quick reading of the complaint demonstrates the weak (or non-existent) foundation upon which it stands [emphasis added]:
The first amendment of the United States Constitution states…“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The placement of the Christian Bible…is in violation of that fundamental proscription — that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others.
No reasonable person walks into the foyer of a Veterans Affairs building, sees a POW/MIA table with a candle, flower, plate, glass, and Bible, and reasonably thinks the government is trying to establish a religion or that Christianity is favored over other religions.
Mikey may not like it, and Chamberlain may feel offended, but no law, policy, or constitutional provision has been enacted to keep their feelings from being hurt.
The National League of POW/MIA Families says the Bible represents
the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God.
Ann Mills-Griffiths, chief executive and chairman of the league, minced no words in what she thought of Weinstein and the lawsuit. She [emphasis added]
called the foundation’s efforts to have Bibles removed from displays “absurd and stupid.” She said those who have removed them under pressure from the group are “politically correct cowards.”
Mikey Weinstein won’t like being called a coward, so we’ll see if he goes after Mills-Griffiths next.
The VA, for its part, isn’t backing down. Building on Pressly’s earlier statement, the VA press secretary went even further [emphasis added]:
National VA spokesman Curt Cashour criticized the lawsuit as “nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community.”
“Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue,” he said.
Would that the Armed Services would speak so forcefully when Mikey Weinstein tries to trample the rights of US troops.
It appears First Liberty, which has helped the Manchester VA to date, is going to help protect the VA from the “bully” Mikey Weinstein, as noted from Chief of Staff Mike Berry in the Military Times, following a rant by Mikey:
“That sectarian Christian Bible bolted down to that POW/MIA table at the Manchester NH VAMC is a grotesque gang sign of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism, exceptionalism and supremacy, indeed a middle finger of unconstitutional repugnance to the plurality and separation of church and state guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution,” Weinstein told Military Times.
“As a state actor, the VA cannot elevate one faith over another or no faith,” he continued. “The VA is wretchedly disrespecting millions of American veterans by doing so. The VA has ignominiously made sure that that sectarian Christian Bible sticks out like a tarantula on a wedding cake in that POW/MIA display, and they’ve done so for a reason! It’s immoral, unethical and blatantly illegal under our Constitution.
“We look forward to aggressively prosecuting our case in federal court.”
Berry is also looking forward to that confrontation.
“I’m confident the MRFF will continue their losing record,” he said. “It’s sad that the MRFF continues its efforts to bully the VA at the expense of our veterans and service members.
“But as I’ve said, if the MRFF wants to destroy or disturb the Manchester VAMC display, they’ll have to come through us.”
Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force Captain, probably has about a hundred pounds on Mike Berry, a current reserve US Marine.
Berry could take him.
Image via Kristin Pressly/Manchester VA Medical Center via AP.