An atheist legal organization has sent a complaint letter to a public hospital in Texas for displaying a large banner at its parking garage asking God for protection and making multiple chaplain videos with Christian content.
The hospital says it plans to remove the banner as part of its original plan, saying it was only supposed to be displayed temporarily during the pandemic.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation sent the letter late last month to the University Medical Center of Lubbock, demanding that it remove the banner.
The banner includes a message attributed to Rev. Wendell Davis of Lyon’s Chapel Baptist Church that reads: “Gracious Lord, for all of UMC I pray Your divine protection over them, guidance within them & provision for them daily. ... Firm, not fearful.”
Written by FFRF Staff Attorney Christopher Line and addressed to UMC President and CEO Mark Funderburk, the letter called the banner display “an unconstitutional endorsement of religion over nonreligion.”
FFRF, which pressures government entities nationwide to end any perceived endorsement of religion, cites the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prevents governments from establishing an official religion.
“We urge UMC to recognize its obligation to provide all citizens with an environment free from religious endorsement by removing this exclusionary display,” wrote Line.
Also at issue, according to the letter and statement posted to the FFRF website on Wednesday, were a series of chaplain videos that specifically endorsed Christianity.
“In addition, a concerned University Medical Center community member has reported that the Medical Center creates videos featuring chaplains that promote and endorse Christianity,” stated FFRF in the statement.
“By publishing overtly Christian messages, the University Medical Center violates the Establishment Clause … When a public hospital regularly promulgates religious concepts to employees and the public, it sends a message that the government supports those ideas.”
UMC provided a statement from Funderburk to The Christian Post explaining that the banner will be taken down in the "near future," keeping with earlier plans for it only to be temporarily displayed.
“UMC Health System recognizes diversity in our workplace and in our patient population. UMC Health System also understands the delicate balance between the free exercise of religion and government neutrality,” read statement.
“As per our original plan to replace the banner once our COVID-19 census diminished, it will be removed in the very near future and replaced with a new message of support, as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Regarding the chaplain program and its practices, Funderburk stated that “before and since the first COVID-19 patient was admitted to UMC, no patient, employee or visitor has been compelled to participate in any expression or practice of faith.”
“Like many hospitals, University Medical Center has a chaplain program designed to improve patient’s health and well-being,” he continued.
“These professionals skillfully and compassionately attend the spiritual and emotional needs, and support the health and welfare of UMC’s patients, staff, and visitors.”