VA to allow religious symbols amid controversy over Bibles on POW memorial tables

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Wednesday that it updated its policy on religious symbols to allow their inclusion in public displays at veterans' facilities.

The policy change came amid a series of lawsuits over religious displays on POW/MIA memorial tables. According to the VA, the new policies would allow the agency to accept donations of religious materials as well as patients and their guests to request religious items -- like literature, symbols, and sacred texts -- during visits to VA chapels.

“We want to make sure that all of our Veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release on Wednesday.

“These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”

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The change came just after First Liberty, a religious liberty law firm, requested the VA effectively end lawsuits on the issue by clarifying that patients could override VA facility directors' objections in maintaining religious symbols in displays.

While the VA's release didn't specifically address directors' objections, it appeared the policy would follow through on First Liberty's request.

"This new VA policy is a welcome breath of fresh air," Mike Berry, First Liberty Institute's Director of Military Affairs, said in a statement provided to Fox News.

"On the eve of our nation’s Independence Day, this is the perfect time to honor our veterans by protecting the religious freedom for which they fought and sacrificed.  The Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of religious displays with historic roots such as those commonly found in VA facilities.  We commend the VA for taking this necessary and positive action.”

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The VA specifically pointed to the Supreme Court's decision in June, allowing a cross to stand as a war memorial amid objections from the American Humanist Association.

Across the country, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has challenged the inclusion of religious displays on First Amendment grounds. The group specifically advocates against what it perceives to be instances of individuals improperly using the government to promote their own religious beliefs.

The founder of the MRFF, Mikey Weinstein, said Wednesday the VA's decision was "tragic and predictable" and vowed to pursue legal action in federal court.

“The Military Religious Freedom Foundation looks forward to aggressively prosecuting our current case in Federal Court against the VA in Manchester, New Hampshire where the VA has literally BOLTED a Christian Bible to the POW/MIA table display in their main entrance," he said in a statement.

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In May, the MRFF sued over a POW/MIA memorial table which included a Bible at a VA facility in New Hampshire -- an inclusion Weinstein called a "repugnant example of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism, exceptionalism, superiority, and domination."

The VA responded by saying it wouldn't allow the MRFF to bully it on this issue.

"This lawsuit – backed by a group known for questionable practices and unsuccessful lawsuits – is nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community," VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour previously told Fox News.