MRFF Commends VA/VHA Recognition of Religious Inclusion Over Exclusion

Published On: February 1, 2024|Categories: Achievements, News|0 Comments|

The VHA (Veterans Health Administration) is America’s largest integrated health care system, providing care at 1,321 health care facilities, including 172 medical centers and 1,138 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics), serving 9 million enrolled Veterans each year.

Throughout its history, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its Founder/President Mikey Weinstein have had a number of disagreements with the Veterans Administration and VHA regarding the unconstitutional display of sectarian religious symbols at taxpayer funded government facilities and within government programs: 

  • 12/14/22 MRFF Again Condemns the Annual Government-Sanctioned Desecration of Non-Christian Veterans’ Graves by “Wreaths Across America” (note: VA-National Cemetery Administration recognizes 98 ‘Emblems of Belief’ https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hmm/emblems.asp)
  • 8/24/23 Once Again, MRFF Assists Client in Quickly Ending the Practice of Sectarian Religious ‘Territorial Marking’ of a POW/MIA Memorial at a VA Facility
  • 3/20/23–  Austin VA Clinic Removes Large Cross In Main Lobby Within 90 Minutes of MRFF Demand
  • 11/3/17 – Denver VA Medical Center promptly removes Unconstitutional Bible from “Missing Man Table!” 
  • 10/18/16 – MRFF commends Chillicothe Veteran Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Athens Ohio, for prompt New Testament Bible removal from Medical Health Clinic  
  • 4/19/16 – New Testament Bible Removed from Tobyhanna, PA VA POW/MIA Table 
  • 4/11/16 – New Testament Bible Removed from Houston, TX VA POW/MIA Table  
  • 4/4/16 – New Testament Bible Removed from Youngstown, OH VA POW/MIA Table 
  • 2/25/16 – New Testament Bible Removed from Akron, OH VA POW/MIA Table

In light of this brief history of MRFF’s disagreements with the VA’s constitutionally-mandated religious neutrality, we want to also commend VA attempts to promote religious inclusion.  One such highly commendable action by the VA was brought to our attention by a MRFF supporter and client:

From: Veterans Health Administration <[email protected]
Sent: Friday, November 3, 2023 9:09 AM
To: Veterans Health Administration <[email protected]>
Subject: November Spiritual Reflection

MESSAGE FROM THE VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION

November 3, 2023

November Spiritual Reflection

Welcome to November’s spiritual reflection. We hope this offering provides an opportunity to generate curiosity, open dialogue and foster dignity and respect for our VA teammates and Veterans.    

All Saints’ Day (Christian) – November 1: This day, which honors all saints who have reached heaven, reflects our mission to serve Veterans with Integrity and Excellence and underscores the values of Integrity and Respect for diverse spiritual beliefs.
Karva Chauth (Hindu) – November 1: Originally, women prayed for the safety and protection of soldiers, and in modern days, married women fast and pray for the well-being of their spouses. The I CARE value of Respect shines through this observance, as it centers on the well-being of loved ones, including service members.
All Souls Day (Christian) – November 2: All Souls’ Day commemorates the souls of those who have passed away. The value of Respect is reflected in this observance as well. 
Dhanteras (Hindu) – November 10: Observed in India as the first day of the festival of Diwali and in Nepal as the festival of Tihar. On this day, supplicants pray to Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of medicine, for a long, healthy life, free of diseases. 
Diwali (Hindu) – November 12: The Festival of Lights symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Lamps are lit as a sign of hope and celebration. The triumph of good over evil symbolizes our dedication to Integrity, Respect for diverse cultures and Excellence in celebrating this victory of light.
Rosh Chodesh Kislev (Jewish) – November 13: This Hebrew holiday, marking the birth of a new moon, reflects Respect for cultural diversity and the Excellence required in tracking time.
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (Christian) – November 13: The feast day of the patron saint of hospital administrators. She established schools and orphanages and was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Catholic Church. Her work reflects our commitment to Compassion and Respect.
Bhai Dooj (Hindu) – November 14: Celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters as brothers bestow gifts to their sisters, who pray for the success and well-being of their brothers. This holiday reflects our mission to care for Veterans and their families.
Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne (Christian) – November 18: Recognized for her care and education of Indigenous American survivors, she exemplifies Compassion, Respect and Excellence in serving diverse communities.
Chhath Puja (Hindu) – November 19: Observed in honor of the Sun and the goddess Chhathi Maiya for bestowing life on earth and fulfilling particular wishes. Compassion and Respect are evident in this observance as we express gratitude for life.
Blessed Miguel Agustín Pro (Christian) – November 23: Blessed Miguel spent his life in a secret ministry to Mexican Catholics and was martyred for his faith. Compassion and Respect shine through his unwavering commitment to Christian faith. 
Martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib – (Sikh) – November 24: Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib was the ninth Sikh Guru. He was beheaded for refusing conversion to another religion, resonating with our commitment to Integrity and Respect.
Day of the Covenant (Baha’i) – November 25: Celebrates the appointment of ʻAbdu’l-Bahá as the Centre of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant, reflecting our mission to serve with Integrity and Excellence in acknowledging diverse religious traditions.
Christ the King (Christian) – November 26: The Feast of Christ the King was begun by Pope Pius XI, reminding the Church to acknowledge Christ’s kingship with one’s whole life, which exemplifies the values of Commitment and Integrity.
Guru Nanak Birthday, also Kartik Purnima (Sikh) – November 27: Commemorates the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, which aligns with our VA mission reflecting our commitment to Compassion, Respect and Excellence in celebrating the Sikh tradition.
Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha (Baha’i) – November 27: The Ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is a holy day commemorating the death of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, which reminds us of the value of spiritual leaders. This also reminds us that caring for Veterans, their families and caregivers includes memorializing them after they pass. 
Kartik Purnima (Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs)– November 27: Translates to The Full Moon of the Month Kartik and is the end of the holy period of chaturmasya.  Prabodhini Ekadashi signifies the awakening of the god. Jains begin their wandering Padyatra, (i.e., travel) on foot. This day is also celebrated as the birthday of Kalikalasarvajna, Acharya Bhagavant Srivijay Hemachandrasooriji, born on this day. The various meanings of this holiday for three religions reflect our connectedness with each other, even with differences. Our core value of Respect is reinforced every time we honor our differences. 
Loy Krathong (Buddhist) – November 28: Also known as a festival of lights. Pays homage to the water goddess Mae Khongkha. The idea behind krathongs is to put all your misfortunes in a boat before allowing them to float away from sight, reminding us that in the community we can release our burdens. The I CARE value of Commitment follows with this holiday as we set aside time to pay our respects to our Higher Power.  
Saint Andrew’s Day (Christian) – November 30: A feast day celebrating the disciple who, according to the New Testament, introduced his sibling, the Apostle Peter, to Jesus. Reminding us to share our gifts and talents as they may change the world. Our new VA mission statement emphasizes our desire to reach and care for all our nation’s Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors. 

In these trying times, let us remember that we are stronger together than apart. [emphasis added] 

In constitutional terms regarding faith traditions and accommodation, MRFF has often held that government agencies must accommodate all faiths equally, or not at all.  This has caused many of MRFF’s detractors to hurl ‘anti-Christianity’ epithets (…and much, much worse) at MRFF staff, volunteers, supporters, clients and their families.  These detractors conveniently ignore MRFF’s makeup of over 95% Christians who understand and respect the well-recognized diversity of the Christian faith and our Constitution.  MRFF’s actions on behalf of our clients have focused on any unconstitutional religious entitlements or tests based on any religious faith, denomination or sectarian tradition. Client complaints are the result of attempts at government sponsorship and elevation of the majority faith (Christianity) within the U.S.  MRFF’s Christian supporters understand that these unconstitutional attempts at sectarian exclusivity involve a Christian faith with an estimated 30-45,000 denominations globally:

33,000  https://shorturl.at/kDLN6 Wesleyan University

40,000  https://shorturl.at/esBQT Christianity.com

45,000  https://shorturl.at/hptyV Center for the Study of Global Christianity

…and around 200 Christian denominations in the United States https://shorturl.at/BFMT4 (Hartford Institute for Religion Research).

Finally, MRFF and our Christian supporters understand and appreciate the unique foresight and wisdom of our founding fathers’ establishment of Church/State separation while also banning of all religious tests within government service.  MRFF truly believes our founding fathers sought this governmental religious neutrality as a societal cornerstone to protect individual freedoms when they sought to “… form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”  This foresight and wisdom is particularly important within a military structure that depends upon unity and cohesive actions in defending ‘We the People’ regardless of religious beliefs that can fester and create the following oft-told fictional situation:

“It is an undoubtedly fictional story of a man that was walking across a bridge one day, only to find a man standing on the edge about to jump. So, this guy runs over and tries to stop the guy.  ‘Stop, don’t do it.’  ‘Why shouldn’t I jump?’ ‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’ ‘Like what?’  ‘Well, do you believe in God?’  ‘Yes.’  ‘Me too!’ ‘Are you Christian, Buddhist, or something else?’ Christian. ‘Catholic or Protestant?’ Protestant. Me too, Episcopalian or Baptist? Baptist.  Me too. Southern Baptist or Northern Baptist? Southern. Me too. Are you a General Southern Baptist or a Reformed Particular Southern Baptist? Reformed Particular Southern Baptist. Me too, Reformed Particular Southern Baptist, Reformation of 1879, or Reformation of 1915? 1915.  DIE HERETIC SCUM. And the man helped out the desperate man’s cause — he pushed him off the bridge.”

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