Federal Employees News Digest

VA institutes new 'religious symbols' policy

The Department of Veterans Affairs this month announced that is has revised policy and directives regarding “religious literature, symbols and displays at VA facilities,” with an aim to adapt to court decisions and to better protect religious freedoms for vets and their kin—all “while ensuring inclusivity and nondiscrimination,” as a VA press release noted.

The changes—placed in effect on July 3—are intended also to help make policy and procedures at individual VA facilities more consistent, as some of those policies have been “interpreted inconsistently at various VA facilities in recent years, resulting in unfortunate incidents that interrupted certain displays.”

“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,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a release. “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 changes should help ensure that patrons of the VA have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels as requested, and the right to representations of faith in publicly accessible displays at facilities throughout the department.

The department published a fuller list of what the policy changes will accomplish, reproduced in full below:

-Allow the inclusion in appropriate circumstances of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities.

-Allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and sacred texts during visits to VA chapels and during their treatment at VA.

-Allow VA to accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols at its facilities and distribute them to VA patrons under appropriate circumstances or to a patron who requests them.

-The U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the important role religion plays in the lives of many Americans and its consistency with Constitutional principles. This includes the following values: a display that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols and practices; respect and tolerance of differing views; and endeavors to achieve inclusivity and nondiscrimination.

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