"When one proudly dons a U.S. Military uniform, there is only one religious symbol: the American flag. There is only one religious scripture: the American Constitution. Finally, there is only one religious faith: American patriotism."
MRFF Founder and President, Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
MRFF Founder and President Mikey Weinstein’s Demand Letter to Executive Director Russell Armstead, Lexington, Kentucky Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC) and VA Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher (Copied)
From: Michael L Weinstein <mikeyw4444@hatmaker Subject: Unconstitutional Violations Under Your Leadership at Lexington, Kentucky VAMC, Troy Bowling Campus Date: November 14, 2023 at 8:30:27 AM MST To: Russel Armstead Cc: Tanya J. Bradsher, Mikey Weinstein <[email protected]>
Russell Armstead Executive Director Lexington, Kentucky Veterans Administration Health Care System
RE: Executive Director Armstead, on behalf of its 12 military veteran client patients at your Lexington, Kentucky VAMC facility, MRFF demands that you immediately remove the illicit, unconstitutional Christian proselytizing material (from the “Gideons International”) organization from the referenced POW/MIA “Missing Man Table” display which is under your personal control and direction.
Dear Executive Director Russell Armstead,
My name is Mikey Weinstein, and I am the head of a large civil rights organization called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF, https://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org). MRFF currently represents well over 85,000 active duty, reserve, National Guard, and military veteran clients as well as many clients among the 17 national security agencies and DHS (Coast Guard) and DOT (U.S. Maritime Service). MRFF’s specific mission is to protect the constitutionally-mandated wall separating church and state in the above-referenced governmental venues.
MRFF has been retained by a dozen military veterans who are also patients under your leadership as Executive Director at your Lexington, Kentucky Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC), Troy Bowling Campus, 1101 Veterans Drive, Lexington, Kentucky, 40502-2235.
Of these 12 honorable American military veteran patients/MRFF clients, 7 are practicing Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, 2 practice the Jewish faith, 1 practices the Islamic faith, and 2 follow non-faith traditions.
Executive Director Armstead, I won’t belabor the point here. The POW/MIA “Missing Man Table” display in the main lobby at your Troy Bowling Campus VAMC facility has sectarian Christian proselytizing material from the “Gideons International” organization prominently displayed on it to the utter exclusion of any other religious faith on non-faith tradition. If you are perchance somehow NOT familiar with the absolutely sectarian “Gideons International” Christian proselytizing mission, please just Google it and you will then clearly see, sir.
Please see the e-mail below from one of our 12 MRFF client complainants on this sordid matter, which provides excellent detail as to the scurrilous, unconstitutional violations occurring under your direction, sir.
Executive Director Armstead, you’re allowing this partisan display to promote and proselytize Christianity and ONLY Christianity is an atrocious and singularly ignominious act of illicit, unconstitutional Christian supremacy, exclusivity, triumphalism, and exceptionalism. It viciously violates not only the No Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and its construing caselaw but your own VA regulations as well.
The display of Christian proselytizing material as the sole religious item in a VA medical center display is in clear violation of the VA’s own regulations and policies regarding religious displays, which state that a display “should not elevate one belief system over others,” such as VA Directive 0022, “Religious Symbols in VA Facilities,” January 31, 2020, (emphasis added):
2. POLICY. Religious symbols may be included in a passive display, including a holiday display, in public areas of VA facilities (see subsection a. below), if the display is of the type that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols and practices that simply recognize the important role that religion plays in the lives of many Americans. Such displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others. …
b. VA is committed to inclusivity and nondiscrimination and evaluates all displays in public areas on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the policy stated above. VA particularly encourages the placement of diverse religious symbols together in passive displays in public areas.
The display of a Christian Bible or the Gideons International proselytizing material would not even be allowed as a permanent display in a VA facility chapel, let alone a public lobby as it is on this POW-MIA table. 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 (emphasis added):
9. CHAPELS AND OTHER WORSHIP FACILITIES
a. Chapels. The chapel, or a room set aside exclusively for use as a chapel, must be reserved for patients’ spiritual activities, such as: worship, prayer, meditation and quiet contemplation. Such chapels are appointed and maintained as places for meditation and worship. 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. Religious literature, content and symbols must be made readily accessible to VA patients and visitors in a chapel or Chaplain Service office at their request. The only exception to the policy on maintaining chapels as religiously neutral are the chapels at VA medical facilities which were built with permanent religious symbols in the walls or windows. 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 and VA Space Planning Criteria …
So you can better understand the history of sectarian Christian bibles, or related Christian proselytizing material, placed on these “Missing Man Table” displays, please take a good look at this article by MRFF’s Senior Research Director Ms. Chris Rodda:
Additionally, here is a useful timeline for your further review as well, clearly showing that a Christian bible, or related sectarian Christian material such as the Gideons International material on your “Missing Man Table” display, was NEVER a part of the “Missing Man Table” POW/MIA tabor display from its origination until numerous decades afterward:
1967 – The POW/MIA table tradition was created by the Red River Fighter Pilots Association, an association of Vietnam combat pilots informally known as the “River Rats.” They began the tradition in May of 1967 at a meeting at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand, held by a group of pilots to discuss ways to prevent so many pilots from being shot down and captured. The original tradition created by the River Rats at this meeting did not include a Bible among the table’s items.
1985 – The American Legion passed a resolution to set a POW/MIA table at its events. In its official chaplains manual, the American Legion listed the items to be placed on the table. In keeping with the original tradition, a Bible was not among the items in the American Legion’s version. This was the version that became the standard, and is still widely used today.
1999 – The VFW Ladies Auxiliary published a script for the setting of the POW/MIA table in a 1999 issue of its magazine, adding a Bible to the table’s items. This is the earliest evidence of a Bible being added to the table.
c. 2000 – The National League of POW/MIA Families put out a script for the setting of the POW/MIA table that was almost identical to the one published in the 1999 issue of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary magazine, including the addition of the Bible. The National League of POW/MIA Families script first appeared on the organization’s website in 2000.
This new National League of POW/MIA Families version, created over three decades after the original, Bible-free tradition was begun by the River Rats, is now wrongly thought by many to be the original tradition, and has led many to think that a Bible has always been included on POW/MIA tables and that it was the National League of POW/MIA Families that originated the tradition.
Here is that key e-mail mentioned supra from one of MRFF’s 12 clients on this instant matter at hand:
From: (MRFF Client’s E-mail Address withheld) Subject: Requesting assistance regarding missing man/fallen comrade table Date: November 13, 2023 at 4:21:34 AM MST To: Michael L Weinstein <[email protected]>, Mikey Weinstein <[email protected]>
Hello Mr Weinstein,
I am writing on behalf of at least 12 Veterans to request assistance from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation regarding a blatant violation of the First Amendment at VAMC Lexington (Troy Bowling Campus, 1101 Veterans Dr., Lexington, KY 40502-2235). The campus chooses to permanently exhibit a missing man/fallen comrade table which we all agree is a righteous and noble thing to do as a reminder of those who will never be returned, those who have passed, and as a symbol that ultimately we will all be the fallen comrade at some point. To be clear, we have no objection whatsoever to permanently exhibiting a missing man/fallen comrade table. However, we are all deeply troubled by the facility’s choice to include religious materials in the display that are specifically and purposefully non-inclusive of all Veterans. Moreover, the recent choice to replace the Bible – which at least addresses the origins of the belief systems of the overwhelming majority of our group – with a text that clearly and unmistakably demonstrates preference for Christianity above all other belief systems is highly disturbing to those of us who have served the country to support and defend the Constitution, including the bill of rights and subsequent amendments.
Some of the members of the group practice Islam and Judaism and the choice to permanently display a New Testament psalms and proverbs text published and provided by an organization purposefully dedicated to proselytizing sends a clear and unambiguous message that all Veterans are not welcome. Given the guidance provided in these types of texts that tells practitioners of this particular faith to not even greet those who practice different beliefs, some members of our group have determined they no longer are willing to accept any treatment in the facility. Others feel that if this organization is incapable of following the fundamental and foundational laws of the land, it is incapable of providing safe, timely, and adequate medical care. This issue is going to put Veterans at risk for harm when they feel they can no longer come to a medical facility due to the blatant, egregious, and flagrant disregard for the mental and spiritual health of our country’s Veterans.
When we think about our buddies from our time in service that are not Christian’s, we are distraught knowing the organization founded and dedicated to our mental and physical well-being is purposefully choosing to do something that causes so many of us non-trivial pain and anguish.
We all know what right looks like and those of us GWOT era Veterans saw what right looks like daily entering the DFACs, Chow Halls, and Mess Halls down range. VAMC Lexington can easily do better and should know better. The facility director served for over 20 years, according to his biography online, and must know better. All we are asking is to display the table without any religious or anti-religious materials…the same way we saw these tables displayed daily at DFACs and Chow/Mess Halls over the past 20+ years.
Given the clear intent and message conveyed when displaying explicitly proselytizing materials, our group wanted to reach out to MRFF for assistance. We all have significant concerns about possible reprisal for trying to resolve this issue directly, where word can easily be spread about those of us who either are not part of the club or not viewed as kindly by members of the same faith group for wanting to continue to uphold what we see as a lifelong duty, obligation, responsibility, and commitment to support and defend the Constitution. We are counting on MRFF to keep our identity confidential to avoid the reprisal we feel is inevitable should our identity become known to staff at this and/or other facilities, in addition to the potential threats to our safety and well-being from other individuals in this country who have recently escalated the use of violence to target members of non-Christian faith groups.
Thank you for your assistance in advance (MRFF Client’s name, phone number, address and all other ID information withheld)
Executive Director Armstead, on behalf of its 12 military veteran client patients at your Lexington, Kentucky VAMC facility. MRFF demands that you immediately remove the illicit, unconstitutional Christian proselytizing material (from the Gideons International organization) from the referenced POW/MIA “Missing Man Table” display, which is under your personal control and direction.
Failure to timely remove this unconstitutionally offensive Christian literature material from your POW/MIA “Missing Man Table” display will result in aggressive and highly visible Federal litigation to, inter alia, force your VAMC facility to follow its own VA regulatory structure prohibiting such wretchedly illegal and constitutionally-violative displays of singularly sectarian Christian religious dominance to the exclusion of all other faith and non-faith traditions at a critically needed, U.S. government medical facility.
Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, Esq. Founder and President Military Religious Freedom Foundation 505-250-7727
(Current Photo of the offending “Missing Man Table” display at your Lexington VAMC facility…photo credit “Military Religious Freedom Foundation”)