Religious freedom

EDITOR:

There has recently been some misunderstanding regarding the chapel at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center. The most recent national VA policy dating back to July 2008 states that “chapels are appointed and maintained as places for meditation and worship, and when VA Chaplains are not providing or facilitating a religious service for a particular faith group, the chapel must be maintained as religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith tradition.” This means that the Christian symbols and statues are not hidden when the chapel is used for Catholic Mass or protestant services or by groups or individuals that identify with the Christian faith.

The federal government recognizes the wide diversity of different faith groups in existence. The VA policy on Spiritual and Pastoral Care is to “uphold the free exercise of religion by all medical, domiciliary, and nursing home patients in the health care facility. This includes providing or facilitating appropriate worship opportunities.” It also requires that the chapel be available for all faiths for prayer, worship, meditation, etc. and therefore be religiously neutral when not used for services or by Christian-based groups. This allows for our patients and their families who do not identify with Christianity to use the room for prayer, meditation or reflection.

To facilitate this policy, curtains have been installed for the time being that can be opened for chapel services or when used by specific Christian faith groups or individuals for Bible study or prayer and drawn closed when the chapel is not used for these purposes. We are also checking with other VA medical centers to see how they comply with this policy while still honoring our heritage.

In a recent letter to the editor, it was also mentioned that our chaplains may not read scripture or talk about Jesus. Chaplain Mueller, who was quoted, told me that was not accurate. There are no prohibitions on chaplains reading scripture, talking about Jesus or praying in his name at chapel services, during ceremonies or when providing spiritual care to patient and families that identify with the Christian faith.

We do understand and appreciate the concern by people in our community regarding religious freedom, and we hope this provides some clarification.

Brad Nelson

Iron Mountain

Public Affairs Officer

Oscar G. Johnson

VA Medical Center