- (Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., can read their favorite Gospel passages once again after a ban on the Bible and other religious texts was repealed Thursday.
"Bibles and other religious materials have always been and will remain available for patient use at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center," said a statement released today by the hospital. "The visitation policy as written was incorrect and should have been more thoroughly reviewed before its release. It has been rescinded."
Walter Reed did not return a call for further comments by press time.
The hospital issued a memorandum late last month that updated its caretakers on changes in patient visitation rules. The updated policies quickly raised concerns over a passage that declared "no religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit." The restriction inspired a large outcry, forcing the military's largest hospital for personnel and veterans to continue allowing religious items in its halls.
The Family Research Council (FRC) helped spark initial protests against the new policy. Tony Perkins, the organization's president, said it launched an online petition to overturn the ban on religious literature. Collecting over 20,000 signatures in a day, he said he's glad the FRC helped fight for religious freedom.
"This is very ironic," Perkins said. "We're talking about the ability of family members to read from a Bible to their wounded or even dying family members who fought to defend that same liberty. If the freedom of those who have sworn to give their lives defending such freedoms can be taken away, what can we expect for the rest of us?"
Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said religious freedom was a universal right. Without it, he said, Americans would lose one of their defining attributes. They'd also shortchange soldiers who sacrificed for that freedom, he argued.
"It sobers me realizing that people in our society want to suppress the practice of orthodox religion in the public sphere," Land said. "I'm delighted that this ban was rescinded but I'm horrified it was enacted in the first place. It is a violation of the First Amendment rights of every American."
Walter Reed's new decree also caught Congress' attention, prompting several members to demand it re-evaluate the controversial rule. Leading the charge was Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who criticized the policy's logic during a speech at the House of Representatives last week. After meeting with Walter Reed officials on Wednesday, he said he's confident the hospital will protect patients' future faith practices.
"The First Amendment is essential and our soldiers are defending it with their very lives," King said. "America was founded as a Christian nation and our culture is Christian. We have to stand up to defend that tradition. It is essential to nurture the spiritual health of our wounded in a place like that."
Perkins said Walter Reed's ruling reflected a larger bias against organized religion within the Obama administration. Citing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and attacks on the Defense of Marriage Act as examples, he said the current executive branch threatened religious freedom in America.
"You can't judge what's in somebody's heart or their administration, but you can judge them by the fruits of their labors," Perkins said. "The fruit of this administration shows it is hostile to Christianity."
King said that the only way to prevent future attacks on American freedoms was to reverse the process in the first place. He said Walter Reed had assured him it would issue a policy affirming visitors' rights to bring religious items to patients. Though no timetable was set for the new decree, he said he expected it soon, as the hospital needed a permanent policy in place.
"Any time we weigh in on the side of goodness, faith and justice, we make the world a better place," he said. "The greater the objection is, the less likely they are to make another try."