Why did VA hospitals restrict and in some cases ban volunteers from bringing holiday cheer to patients?
That’s the question Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) wants answered. He’s the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he’s accusing the VA of disrespecting Christmas as well as censoring and obstructing volunteers bearing gifts and Christmas cards.
Among the allegations:
* The VA medical center in Augusta, Ga. Banned high school carolers from singing Christmas songs containing religious references in public areas of the hospital. The students declined to perform from a government-approved list of secular songs.
* VA officials in Iowa City, Iowa, told American Legion volunteers they could not hand out gifts to veterans if the wrapping paper included the words “Merry Christmas.”
* VA personnel in Montgomery, Ala., prevented a young woman from delivering gift bags to veterans because they included the words “Merry Christmas.”
* The Dallas VA medical center refused to accept the delivery of handwritten Christmas cards from local school children because the cards contained phrases like “Merry Christmas” and “God Bless You.”
“In taking it upon themselves to restrict Christmas cards, carols and gifts in certain locations, VA officials clearly ignored longstanding federal government traditions, basic common sense and possibly a 2011 federal consent decree that ordered VA not to ban religious speech,” Miller wrote in a letter to Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Miller sent a strongly worded letter to the head of the VA demanding that VA personnel responsible for the censorship be held accountable for possible constitutional and civil rights violations.
“Because Christmas is a federal holiday and VA is a federal entity, VA patients, volunteers and veterans service organizations should be free to respectfully honor it without obstruction and censorship from VA,” he wrote.
American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger said “Christians are more and more often targeted for censorship and restriction at VA facilities.”
"First of all, VA's decision to prohibit the delivery of Christmas cards that mention Christmas is ludicrous,” Dellinger said. "Second of all, VA has been down this road before, and recently. VA has been warned through a federal court decree to stop denying freedom of religious expression at its facilities. It’s pretty obvious the Dallas VA did not get that memo."
The VA hospital in Dallas admitted to “incorrectly” rejecting Christmas cards from students at Grace Academy in Prosper, Tex.
“We regret that a misunderstanding of policy was communicated and will work towards ensuring no one is told that their religious cards for Veterans are not welcome,” director Jeffrey Milligan wrote in a letter to the Liberty Institute.
Liberty Institute attorney represents Grace Academy teacher Susan Chapman. The law firm released a statement warning that the VA was in violation of the law.
“We are continuing our investigation of this incident as well as numerous others we are learning about where VA facilities across the country are engaging in hostility to religion in violation of the First Amendment and federal law,” the firm said in a statement.
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) told me she is deeply concerned and horrified about an incident that occurred at a VA hospital in her district. Twenty-year-old Jordan McLendon made more than 100 gift and goodie bags for patients at the VA hospital in Montgomery. She showed up at the hospital on Christmas Eve but was turned away because the bags were marked with the words “Merry Christmas.”
“For the government to tell this 20-year-old woman that she can’t honor her grandfather by handing out gift bags is pretty outrageous,” Roby told me. “This screams of Washington political correctness and the end result was a young woman turned away from handing out Christmas gifts to patients.”
Roby said people in her congressional district are “extremely upset” over what happened.
“Her intention was to provide some comfort and bring some cheer and joy,” the congresswoman told me. “She knew that many of them did not have family members or would be alone.
Roby said she personally called McLendon and promised to make sure this never happens again.
“We want to encourage our young people and adults alike to do these acts of kindness for other people,” she said. “We need to make this right.”
Meanwhile, Miller has launched a special tip line so that patients, staff and volunteers can report other acts of religious censorship. That email address is email@example.com.
The VA did not provide comments on the incidents in Iowa City or Alabama, but they did weigh in on the incident in Georgia – with the high school carolers. Pay close attention to the last sentence.
“We welcome holiday music within our medical centers, and our Veterans and their families welcome the spirit and consideration of those who donate their time,” the statement read. ‘For carolers singing religious songs, we are happy to provide more private areas for groups to sing for Veterans who choose to participate.”
A private area?
For crying out loud, the kids are performing “Away in the Manger,” not “Debbie Does Dallas.”
I’m glad Rep. Miller and Rep. Roby are demanding accountability. It’s high time that somebody exposes the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed attempts to marginalize Christianity and take the Reason out of the Season.
It’s enough to make you want to deck somebody’s halls.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter@ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.