MRFF Assists Client in Securing Change to Unconstitutional Selective Religious Filtering at VA Medical Center

Published On: March 6, 2021|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments|

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MRFF was initially contacted in September/2019 by a reserve officer and veteran who receives treatment at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts (a.k.a Bedford VAMC) regarding an inability to access certain websites via the hospital’s Wi-Fi.  The FortiGuard Web Filtering service used by the Bedford VAMC restricted this client’s access to both a Freemason and a Wiccan site determined to be ‘Alternative Beliefs’:

Websites that provide information about or promote religions not specified in Traditional Religions or other unconventional, cultic, or folkloric beliefs and practices.  Sites that promote or offer methods, means of instruction, or other resources to affect or influence real events through the use of spells, curses, magic powers, satanic or supernatural beings.

While access to Freemason and Wiccan sites was blocked, access continued to be allowed apparently to websites containing Psalm 109 of the Christian Bible and its suggested “method/resource to influence real events through curses by supernatural beings” including the following:

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

According to FortiGuard, filtering with their service is not automatic and filtered categories must be chosen by the software filtering service user.  From the FortiGuard website:

“FortiGuard Web Filtering is a managed web filtering solution available by subscription from Fortinet. … FortiGuard Web Filtering includes over 45 million individual ratings of web sites that apply to more than two billion pages. Pages are sorted and rated into several dozen categories administrators can allow or block [emphasis added].”

MRFF’s Senior Research Director succinctly pointed out the unconstitutional hypocrisy of the Bedford VAMC administrators in an article for The DailyKos on September 12, 2019:

This means that someone at the hospital very deliberately chose to deny patients and visitors at the facility who hold ‘alternative beliefs’ from being able to access websites about their chosen beliefs.  Under this [FortiGuard’s ‘Alternative Beliefs’] definition, Christian websites should also be blocked, since they encourage prayer to “affect or influence real events” by praying to Jesus, a “supernatural being.” But of course they don’t mean that preferred “supernatural being.”

After finding the same selective religious filtering was still in place when they returned to the facility in September/2020, MRFF’s client reached out to the Bedford VAMC patient advocate “and got an explanation that the filters were chosen by their third party vendor, when that vendor’s own documentation states that the filters are customizable by the end user.”  MRFF’s client also contacted Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office for assistance in November/2020. 

MRFF’s client emailed the following update on March 6, 2021:

This week, I went to the Bedford VAMC to get my COVID-19 vaccine, and I logged onto the guest Wi-Fi. It appears they are no longer using the “alternative beliefs” filter, though they have not changed providers on the service.  I have not heard back from the patient advocacy team, nor Senator Warren’s office, so I can only assume that the increased scrutiny resulted in a quiet change in the background.

I cannot imagine a successful conclusion to this situation without the spotlight which your team in the MRFF shone on them in 2019, and the attention from a Senator’s team.

If this happened to me, a grumpy and grizzled veteran, I can only imagine the sort of uphill battle young Service-members would face if this sort of filter were installed on the medical centers on their posts or bases.  Thank you for the unceasing service in defense of religious freedom for all in the US Military and our Veterans!

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