Veterans Group Wants Congressional hearing on VA Dept.'s Alleged Religious Liberty Violations

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By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
January 15, 2014|2:00 pm

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.

The Louisiana-based group Military-Veterans Advocacy, Inc. sent a letter last week to Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who chairs the Committee on Veterans Affairs.

Written by retired Navy Commander and Executive Director of Military-Veterans Advocacy J. B. Wells, the letter 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," wrote Wells.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Wells explained that the letter was prompted by a recent incident regarding the VA's alleged censorship of Christmas items destined for wounded veterans.

"Congressman Miller noted the fact that the VA turned away Christmas cards, presents and carols meant to provide a nice Christmas for hospitalized veterans," said Wells.

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"We wrote the letter to provide support and also to suggest hearings on the situation. My goal is to see similar provisions enacted for veterans and VA employees as were included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act."

Wells also told CP that while he has not received a response from Congressman Miller regarding his correspondence he "did not expect to."

"Still pretty early. I have been in touch with his staff, however, and they had no problem with our releasing the letter to the media," said Wells.

The Christmas cards incident that Wells referenced may have derived from an opinion column by Fox News writer Todd Starnes. In the piece, published last month, Starnes claimed that the VA rejected several Christmas cards written by school children meant for hospitalized veterans because they reportedly violated VA policy.

Alan Noble, Baylor University professor and founder of the popular blog "Christ and Pop Culture," has disputed the validity of the Starnes piece, arguing that Starnes misquoted the VA's official policy on religiously specific cards.

Wells considered the VA to have a "terrible" record on religious liberty issues, which has prompted his organization to sue them over their recent action against two chaplains.

"We are currently suing the Secretary [of Veteran's Affairs] because two chaplains were forced out of a Clinical Pastoral Education program for praying in Jesus' name and quoting scripture," said Wells to CP.

"The VA policy on proselytizing is very restrictive and barred evangelization and frankly any type of outreach ministry."

While Military Advocacy is arguing that the VA is restricting religious freedom, others dispute their claims of repression.

Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, told The Christian Post that the Wells letter "uses a victimhood tactic to acquire the special privilege for Christian government officials."

"Despite the implication of the letter, chaplains can pray all they like on their own time or even in official sermons," said Torpy.

"They are rightfully sanctioned when they persistently abuse their authority for a personal religious agenda."

Torpy added that it was "important for the majority of Christians to speak out against the exploitative evangelism some Christians advocate."

 

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