"POW/MIA Table" by Airman 1st Class Nesha Humes / Public Domain

VA’s revised policies on symbols, displays aim to protect ‘religious liberty’

Jul 9, 2019

By Adelle M. Banks

In the wake of a Supreme Court decision permitting a cross to remain on a public highway, the Department of Veterans Affairs has revised its policies on religious symbols in displays at VA facilities.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Wednesday (July 3) that the new policies will reduce inconsistencies among VA facilities.

“We want to make sure that all of our Veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs. Protecting religious liberty is a key part of how we accomplish that goal,” he said in a statement.

“These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”

The revised policies “allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities.”

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One comment on “VA’s revised policies on symbols, displays aim to protect ‘religious liberty’”

  • I agree with the US Supreme Court’s decision in this case. During and after the First World War, the cross, a ready-made symbol from our common Christian heritage, was adopted as a generally accepted public symbol that referred to no particular religious denomination for marking the graves of slain soldiers and the monuments raised to their honor. Since then, Western societies have become more heterogeneous and pluralistic, and, thanks to historical ignorance and forgetfulness, the crosses that were erected as gravestones and monuments over more than a century in honor of our war-dead are now being seen by some as specifically Christian symbols. The symbol does come from our Christian past — nothing wrong there. It is a particularly apt symbol, given the myths associated with it in the Christian heritage and the immediate cultural response that it evoked in most Westerners in the first half of the twentieth century. This symbol was placed on the graves of slain soldiers, regardless of the particular religion that any of them had professed. I see no benefit now in antagonizing both Christians and war veterans by turning a culturally established symbol into an object of division and rancor by reinterpreting and politicizing it as a symbol of explicit Christian faith. I note that in a county like the USA, where religious superstition still holds sway over a frightening proportion of society, this problem is more likely to arise. But I would suggest that the sane view to take in this case is to insist on the inclusive symbolism intended by the civil and military authorities of last century, giving a lesson in civics and history if necessary, and encouraging everyone caught up in the dispute to pause and take in a wider view. We have to recognize that all things change over time, and the perennial significance of public symbols can be lost sight of, if we are so ill-informed as to know nothing but the present fashions and so petty as to tolerate only what is of the present. Pettiness is not a peculiarity of religionists, though religion does give its adherents many occasions to indulge in it. No, pettiness is one of many human liabilities against which all of us must be on guard. We who would foster freethought in all its innumerable forms must be better than that, if we are to have any right to criticize and challenge the superstitious.


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