A Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in Youngstown, Ohio, substituted a "prop" book for a Bible after a civil rights organization accused the facility of endorsing a particular faith by having only the Christian holy book displayed at a table set up to honor American prisoners of war and missing in action.
In a note to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation on Monday, Kristen Parker, chief of external affairs for Cleveland VA Medical Center -- which handles media for the Youngstown clinic -- said the Bible was "replaced with a generic book, one whose symbolism can be individualized by each of our veterans as they pay their respects" to POWs and MIAs.
Parker told Military.com on Tuesday that because the VA cannot endorse, favor or inhibit any specific religion, "we are supporting our local veteran organizations with their decision to use a prop-book on the POW/MIA Table at our Youngstown [clinic]."
Parker previously said the clinic would support the Disabled American Veterans -- the group that set up the table -- in its decision to display the Bible on the missing man table.
The switch was made after the veteran who initiated the complaint, working with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, responded to the clinic's initial refusal to pull the Bible by demanding a separate table be set up with the Jewish Torah and a copy of "The God Delusion," a popular book on atheism.
"If in the future I decide to add the Quran, or Mormon book of Latter Day Saints, that is my implied right," retired Army Capt. Jordan Ray wrote.
The MRFF, which often butts heads with the military over religious displays, has now made Ray its director of Veterans Affairs.
Bobby Muller, a co-founder and past president of Vietnam Veterans of America and a member of the MRFF's advisory board, followed up Ray's letter with one on April 1, reiterating Ray's demand and noting the clinic "can probably expect more demands for additional displays including a variety of other religious and nonreligious texts in the very near future."
Parker did not respond when asked if the demand that other books get equal treatment on a memorial table played a part in the VA clinic's decision.
Missing man tables are set up as memorials to remember the fallen and the missing who never returned home. Though the tables set up at the Ohio facilities included a Bible, Military.com's search of missing man table images turned up memorials without a Bible at military bases and at a VA facility in Maryland.
The Bible's removal from the Youngstown facility represents the second time since February that the MRFF forced the removal of a Bible from a missing man table at an Ohio VA clinic.
The VA Akron Specialty Outpatient Clinic removed a New Testament Bible on Feb. 25 after the group was contacted by a disabled veteran troubled by presumption that all POWs and MIAs are Christian.
"I know for a fact that all POW-MIAs were not Christian because my grandfather was MIA from World War II and he was Jewish," the Akron Beacon Journal quoted the unidentified veteran as saying in a story published March 12.
MRFF Founder Mikey Weinstein said nine other veterans from the Akron clinic joined in the complaint, which he brought to the clinic leadership. He said the Bible was removed within three days.