Air Force veteran joins fight to remove Bible in New Hampshire VA POW display

A Bible is part of a memorial table display at the veterans hospital in Manchester, N.H., as seen on May 6, 2019. Vice President Mike Pence has weighed in on a First-Amendment lawsuit challenging the display, saying under the current administration, "VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones." Pence addressed the American Legion National Convention in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Aug. 28. He said "The Bible stays."


By SHAWNE WICKHAM | The New Hampshire Union Leader | Published: October 5, 2019

MANCHESTER, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — An Air Force veteran from the greater Manchester area has added her name as a plaintiff to a federal lawsuit that seeks the removal of a Bible from a display honoring POWs at the Manchester VA Medical Center.

Sandra Bell is identified as an atheist in an amended complaint filed Friday by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), which is suing the VA to remove the Bible. It states that Bell is a patient of the Manchester medical center and that “she is forced to have unwelcome direct contact with the Bible each time she enters or leaves” that facility.

Mikey Weinstein from the MRFF said Bell was a signals intelligence analyst in the Air Force from 1996 to 2000. She was not one of the original 14 veterans mentioned in the federal lawsuit, but she and two others have since joined the cause, he said.

Nine of the current 17 MRFF clients are Christians, Weinstein said. But they all share a conviction that the Bible should not be part of such a display at a government facility.

“This is not a Christian nation,” he said. “We’re a secular nation.”

Bell’s name was added as a named plaintiff after Judge Paul Barbadoro, during a hearing on the case last month, questioned the standing of plaintiff James Chamberlain of Barrington in the case, since Chamberlain is a professed Christian.

Weinstein rejected that Friday. “It’s like saying if you’re a white person, you can’t complain about a whites-only water fountain someplace,” he said. ‘It’s a ridiculous argument.”

Still, Bell's name was added to the lawsuit.

The POW “missing man” table at the Manchester VA was set up by the Northeast POW/MIA Network, which is represented by First Liberty Institute in the lawsuit. During last month's hearing, Barbadoro granted the group intervenor status in the case.

The Bible was donated by a 100-year-old former POW who lives in Bedford.

The legal fight found its way to the White House earlier this year. At the American Legion national convention in August, Vice President Mike Pence vowed that VA hospitals "will not be religion-free zones."

"And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays," Pence declared.

©2019 The New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, N.H.)
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