VA: A Victory for Military Religious Freedom No One Noticed

Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, recently published a column hailing a victory for religious freedom that has mostly gone unnoticed — but it is not insignificant.

On January 16th — Religious Freedom Day — the media widely covered President Trump’s proposed changes to federal regulations that would protect prayer and religious exercise in schools. Less widely discussed was the change to the discriminatory treatment of religious organizations within the Federal services.

Under President Obama, faith-based organizations that provided services in some government areas were required by law to make referrals to secular organizations if requested. Secular organizations were not required to make the same referral to religious organizations.

Trump’s proposal eliminates that disparity — and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is already moving on it, writing just a few days after the announcement:

We’re moving to eliminate the double standard that faith-based groups currently face, a double standard that has the unfortunate effect of making some of these groups hesitant to help our veterans…

Those days are about to end. Revising this rule will end discrimination against religious organizations and increase the number of programs for veterans.

We’re thankful to President Trump for directing this change through his Executive Order on religious liberty. We’re also proud that VA is moving in this same direction on its own.

By all accounts, it would seem Secretary Wilkie is an avid defender of military religious freedom. In the same article he recalled the change in policy that now supports the display of Bibles on POW tables — and, without naming names, he called out Michael “Mikey” Weinstein’s “fake outrage.”

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs is a presidential appointee. Under previous administrations, the VA has had a checkered history in its treatment of faith and religious exercise. Consider that when you cast your vote this fall.

Wilkie closed by writing:

The VA will not forsake our heroes. We’re proud to improve a misguided rule that only made it harder for veterans to receive those things that are so effectively delivered by faith: strength, healing and hope.

Amen to that.

Update: The Baptist Joint Committee was one of the few who acknowledged the new referral regulation proposal was probably a “much bigger deal” than the school prayer issue.