Accusations of VA chapel under orders to hide Jesus kicks up controversy

A Michigan pastor investigating parishioners’ complaints about Veterans Affairs hospital chapels has discovered that the facilities have been ordered to maintain religious neutrality since 2008.

Richard Riley, pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, found that statues of Jesus and Mary and a cross and altar were being hidden behind a curtain at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center chapel, according to Fox News.

Riley posted photos, writing on the church’s Facebook page:

Someone in Iron Mountain had heard some frightening news about VA chapels, so she went to the VA hospital and spoke directly with the chaplain. All VA’s chapels have been ordered, by the current administration, to cover their stained glass windows and altars. The pictures below are from our VA hospital in Iron Mountain. The first one shows the stained glass; the second one shows it covered; the third pic shows the altar covered. The chaplain was also visited from someone in Wisconsin, and the pastor was told that he may no longer speak Jesus’ name or read from Scripture during chapel services. This is obviously being done so that we might not offend anyone who is not a Christian. The result is that we Christians are being discriminated against. Are we afraid yet?

Iron Mountain VA photos

“We are not a politicizing kind of church,” Riley told Fox News’ Todd Starnes. “But we also believe Christians have constitutional rights. We have a right to voice our opinion. Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you lose your First Amendment rights.”

But some Facebook users called the accusations overblown, saying that the symbols remain uncovered the majority of the time.

“I’m skeptical,” one Facebook user said in the comments section of the church’s post. “I can’t find any reference to this happening in any VA, in any location in the US, under any order.”

Brad Nelson, a public affairs officer for the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, told Starnes that Washington officials ordered the chapels to remain “religiously neutral.”

“It’s a policy that’s been in place since 2008 that we were not in compliance with,” Nelson told Starnes.

The policy states that “the chapel must be maintained as religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith tradition,” according to Fox News.

When an investigation found the Iron Mountain hospital out of compliance, Nelson told Starnes, chapel officials “put up some nice curtains,” which are closed when the room is not being used for “Bible study, prayer or services.”

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