U.S. Air Force veteran James Chamberlain, with the help of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is suing the Manchester VA Medical Center over the display of a Bible at a POW/MIA table.
About the POW/MIA table
The POW/MIA table, also known as a “Missing Man” display, is a tradition started after the Vietnam War. A small round table is set with various artifacts to honor prisoners of war and those missing in action.
For example, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command, a black napkin “stands for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends,” while an inverted wine glass “reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast.”
A Bible is often included on the table, but not always.
The POW/MIA table at the VA Medical Center in Manchester, NH was created by the Northeast POW/MIA network. They provided the Bible, which was carried by World War II veteran Herk Steinberger during his 18 months as a prisoner of war.
The Bible is currently displayed in a plexiglass box on the table.
A separation of church and state?
The lawsuit argues that the placement of the Bible, without any other religious artifacts, shows favoritism to Christianity in a way that violates the constitutional protection from state-sponsored religion.
Michael L. “Mikey" Weinstein, MRFF’s founder and president, said:
“That sectarian Christian Bible bolted down to that POW/MIA table at the Manchester NH VAMC is a grotesque gang sign of fundamentalist Christian triumphalism, exceptionalism and supremacy, indeed a middle finger of unconstitutional repugnance to the plurality and separation of church and state guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.”
A reasonable, historical tribute?
Supporters of the Bible argue that it is a historical artifact that generally represents faith in a higher power.
Curt Cashour, press secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said:
“This lawsuit – backed by a group known for questionable practices and unsuccessful lawsuits – is nothing more than an attempt to force VA into censoring a show of respect for America’s POW/MIA community. Make no mistake: VA will not be bullied on this issue.”