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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Bible on display at a memorial at New Hampshire's veterans hospital should be removed because it is a violation of the First Amendment, a U.S. Air Force veteran said in a federal lawsuit Tuesday.
The Bible was carried by a prisoner of war in World War II and became part of the Missing Man Table honoring missing veterans and POWs at the entranceway of the Manchester VA Medical Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday the table was sponsored by a veterans group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network.
The lawsuit filed in Concord by James Chamberlain against the center's director, Alfred Montoya, says the Bible's inclusion is in violation of the Constitution. The First Amendment stipulates "that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others," according to the suit.
Chamberlain, a devout Christian, said in the lawsuit the table should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their beliefs. The suit said the original POW/MIA table tradition was started by a group of Vietnam combat pilots and didn't include a Bible as one of the items.
The medical center initially removed the Bible in January after another group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, objected, saying it got complaints from 14 patients who felt it violated the First Amendment. A variety of religions were represented among the 14.
But the Bible reappeared on the table in February. It had been removed "out of an abundance of caution," Curt Cashour, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Afterward, the medical center received an outpouring of complaints from veterans and others, "many of whom dropped off Bibles at the facility" in protest, Cashour said.
After consulting with lawyers, the medical center put the Bible back on the table indefinitely, Cashour said. He called the table "a secular tribute to America's POW/MIA community."
He apologized to those were offended by the Bible's "incorrect" removal.
But Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it is the presence of the Bible that is offensive.
"It's incredibly disrespectful, dishonorable, and most importantly, it's illegal," he said.
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