Austin VA Clinic Removes Large Cross In Main Lobby Within 90 Minutes of MRFF Demand

Published On: March 21, 2023|Categories: Achievements|0 Comments|

March 20, 2023

MRFF assisted 19 U.S. Military veteran clients, including a Christian youth minister/combat veteran, who objected to the display of a large Christian cross in the main lobby of the VA Clinic located in Austin, Texas.  This MRFF client group comprises veterans who follow Jewish, Protestant, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Wiccan, Unitarian and Hindu faith traditions as well as agnostic, atheist, humanist and other secularist non-faith traditions.

MRFF Senior Research Director Chris Rodda provided a detailed description of the cross (along with the numerous violations associated with its display in a VA facility) in her DailyKos article on 3/20/2023:

This very large cross, made up of rough copies of the military branch emblems arranged into the shape of a Christian cross, sending the message that our military is a Christian military and only Christian veterans matter, dominates a seating area in the first floor lobby of the building, where veterans of all religions and none are treated. While the VA recognizes 78 different faith symbols, 38 of which are not Christian, the only faith displayed at the Austin VA Clinic is the preferred and promoted Christian faith.

The veterans who have sought MRFF’s help very simply want the Austin VA Clinic to follow the VA’s own regulations regarding religious displays, such as VA Directive 0022, ‘Religious Symbols in VA Facilities,’ January 31, 2020…”Religious symbols may be included …. Such displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others.” [emphasis added]

This cross would not even be allowed as a permanent display in a VA facility chapel, let alone a lobby seating area. VA medical facility chapels are required to be “religiously neutral” at all times when there is not an actual service taking place for a particular faith group, as is clearly stated in VHA Directive 1111, ‘Spiritual Care’, July 21, 2021…

”When VA chaplains are not providing or facilitating a religious service for a particular faith group, the chapel must be maintained as religiously neutral, meaning it cannot be viewed as endorsing one religion over another. In these cases, the VA medical facility Director must also designate an appropriately sized room or construct a religiously neutral chapel, which is maintained in accordance with this VHA directive…” [emphasis added]

The replicas of the military branch seals that make up the cross also fly in the face of the DoD’s regulations on the use of its trademarked emblems. Not only is it prohibited to use these official emblems to promote religion, the “images should not be recreated or altered in any way that distorts the integrity of any Military Service mark.” The artist’s inaccurate recreations of the seals on the cross, while it is clear that they are supposed to be the branch seals, do alter them in a way that distorts their integrity. The endorsement of these inaccurate recreations of the branch seals by the Austin VA Clinic makes the display of this cross even more of a blatant disregard for regulations.

In an email to MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein on March 16, 2023, one of MRFF’s clients succinctly and very effectively described the obvious sectarian religious problem created when displaying religious symbols in a public facility:

I am a Viet Nam vet with a 20% service-connected disability. To get treatment for my disability, I must go to the Austin VA Clinic on Metropolis Drive.  On prominent display on the first floor of the clinic is a large cross. As a Jew I find this offensive, especially given that none of the other 28 religious symbols identified by Wikipedia are given the same prominent display. I would wager that whoever authorized the placement of the cross would be quite reluctant to display a Satanic symbol if they were offered one.

Another veteran and MRFF client receiving care at this facility also requested MRFF’s assistance based on their experience in combat and tremendous respect for their ‘battle buddy’:

From: (Former U.S. Army Soldier’s/MRFF Client’s email address withheld)
Subject: Remove that Christian CrossDate: March 19, 2023 at 11:58:55 PM MDT
To: Information Weinstein

Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF please have the VA take down that Christian cross immediately! As one of the MRFF’s clients here please do not disclose my name or other personal ID for me.  I am a former U.S. soldier who lives in the Austin, Texas area and I am a patient at the Austin VA clinic. I am also a Youth  Ministries Leader at the Christian Church where my wife and kids go here in the Austin area.

I’m ashamed I didn’t come forward sooner to object to the big Christian cross that is in the lobby of this VA clinic. I fought in hard combat for the 6 weeks of the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq from November to December of 2004. It was also called Operation Phantom Fury.

I am alive today because my battle buddy, (name withheld), took two bullets meant for me in a nasty fire fight one night. He is a fully enrolled member of the (Native American tribe name and location withheld) tribe from the state of (U.S. state name withheld). He survived but lost one of his legs where the bullets hit. I owe him my life.  I watched my battle buddy take a load of crap for not being a Christian like me and most of our unit. When I walk into the lobby of the Austin VA clinic and see that cross hanging there I think of (name withheld) all the time. It makes me feel awful and I should have stood up before. My battle buddy would have wanted me to and I know I should have.

Where is the separation of church and state there?  Please have the VA do what’s right and remove that Christian cross from the main lobby of their VA clinic here in Austin.

Thank you for all you do!  

(Former U.S. Army Soldier’s name, rank, phone number, and address all

Mikey emailed the following demand to the Austin VA Clinic administrator Michael L. Kiefer, Director for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System at 11am (Central) on 3/20/2023:

To the matter at hand, Director Kiefer and I won’t belabor the point. Please see the [Rodda/MRFF Research Director] BREAKING news article below which will contain all of the salient particulars regarding a BLATANTLY unconstitutional violation by the Austin, Texas VA Clinic.

This outrageous, continuous, hostile and notorious display of a sectarian Christian symbol, to the utter exclusion of all other faith and non-faith traditions, viciously violates the No Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution, its construing Federal case law as well as your OWN VA REGULATIONS which are quite clear and dispositive on this matter. This nonsecular display of Christian triumphalism and supremacy also visits a nontrivial amount of hurtful exclusion, marginalization, prejudice, hatred and bigotry upon our MRFF clients who came to us for help but concomitantly feared reprisal and retribution from you and your senior leadership if they brought the demand to remove the Christian crucifix in their own names to you.

MRFF demands, on behalf of our clients who are also your VA patients, that you IMMEDIATELY take down and permanently remove the divisive display of that unconstitutional Christian crucifix symbol! Should you fail to do so in a timely fashion, MRFF will plan to expeditiously litigate the matter in Federal Court, seeking inter alia, both injunctive relief as well as a Writ of Mandamus to have the Court order you to follow your OWN VA regulations to swiftly remove the referenced publicly displayed Christian crucifix.


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