WASHINGTON (CNA/EWTN NEWS) – New clarifications about Department of Veterans Affairs rules have resolved a dispute about religious Christmas carols, gifts and displays in veterans’ hospitals, a chaplains’ group has said.
“No one should try to water down Christmas for our veterans just because they object to any religious references or items. I am most grateful that the VA has clarified their policy prior to the upcoming holidays,” Chaplain Ron Crews, a retired Army Reserve colonel, said Sept. 21.
The chaplain is executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, a group of Protestant Christian organizations and ministries that provide over 2,600 chaplains for the U.S. military.
“This should make clear that churches may sing Christmas carols and distribute Christmas cards at VA hospitals,” Chaplain Crews continued. “The guidelines state that hospital administrators may allow this and provide reasonable guidance as to where displays may be set up and where and how long a church choir may sing.”
He said the new policy “should put a stop to those organizations that complain without basis about any mention of faith in VA facilities.”
The Veterans Affairs department had attracted controversy for some hospital policies applied at Christmastime.
In December 2013, A Veterans’ Affairs hospital in Georgia barred high school Christmas carolers from singing religious songs. The hospital required them to sing from a list of 12 Christmas songs its pastoral service deemed appropriate. The ban was enacted on the grounds that each veteran had the right to be protected from unwelcomed religious material.
The new guidance says that once a director allows holiday singing in a designated location, the department “must remain neutral regarding the views expressed by the group or individual generally or in its holiday songs.”
The guidance says that Veterans Health Administration facilities may receive cards and gifts with religious messages for distributions to patients and residence in accordance with their individual preferences.
It also allows veterans’ groups to set up displays with religious items on VA property.