Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie disagrees with former Obama administration restrictions on religious expressions in the veterans’ health care systems.
In fact, Wilkie believes the administration was just wrong in its approach to enforcing the separation of church and state in facilities, telling The Washington Times the ignorance was a “great disservice” to the men and women who bravely served their country.
“The last administration … had a very ahistoric approach [to veterans],” Wilkie said. “They did not know the makeup of the force. They did not know the history of this country when it came to religious foundations, the religious support for those in uniform.”
Discussing the directives under former President Barack Obama and the attack on liberty posed by rules meant to limit religious expression in veterans hospitals and facilities, Wilkie told The Times he believes most veterans “identify themselves religiously.”
He also addressed the difficult position VA administrators found themselves in when they removed a WWII-era Bible from a display case located in the lobby of a Manchester, New Hampshire hospital. They eventually returned the Bible to the POW/MIA memorial table but a pending lawsuit filed in May seeks to permanently remove the book donated by a World War II veteran, even as the Trump administration has vowed to fight the move.
“I think the leadership of the VA hospital was still not sure how to act given the directives of the last administration,” Wilkie said.
“The underlying notion here is that there is a group of people who want to eliminate all indicia of religion and spirituality from the public square,” he added. “And they’ve used the military as their hobby horse, and that, to me, is a great disservice to the vast majority of those who served.”
The Army Chaplain Corps were banned from distributing Bibles, Torahs and even Korans, to veterans who requested them under the Obama administration, Wilkie noted. Even Christmas carols were banned. The bans on religious symbols and expressions defy the very motto of the Army Chaplain Regimental Corps crest, Wilkie contended, which reads “Pro Deo et Patria,” For God and Country.
“What I consider to be the bizarre argument that men and women who’ve been sent to the most dangerous corners of the Earth, the most miserable places on the planet, would walk by a Bible on a table dedicated to missing men and go to pieces by the sight of that Bible when so many of them have been under fire in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Liberia, [just] goes counter to all logic,” Wilkie argued.
“For veterans, we’re not going to deprive them of that [spiritual] comfort during what is often a very, very trying time,” he said.
Vice President Mike Pence announced this week that the Trump administration will be working to eliminate some of the Obama-era restrictions on religion in Veterans Affairs hospitals.
“As we meet the health care needs of our veterans, let me make you another promise: This administration will always make room for the spiritual needs of our heroes at the VA as well,” Pence said in a speech at the American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana on Wednesday.
During the last Administration the VA was removing Bibles & even banning Christmas carols to be politically correct, but under President @realDonaldTrump, VA hospitals will NOT be religion-free zones. Message to the New Hampshire VA: the Bible STAYS! –@AmericanLegion pic.twitter.com/f35NY28Jc5
— Mike Pence (@mike_pence) August 29, 2019
The Trump administration will “always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith,” the vice president added, telling those suing to remove the New Hampshire Bible that “the Bible stays!”
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