A Veterans’ Affairs hospital in Georgia was wrong to bar Christmas carolers from singing religious songs, a religious liberty legal group has said.
“By banning these Christmas carols, the VA is trampling the very
religious freedoms our veterans have sacrificed so much to defend.
Contrary to what hospital officials are claiming, they are
disrespecting--not respecting – constitutionally protected religious
freedoms,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending
Freedom, said Dec. 30.
A group of high school students visiting the federally-run Charlie
Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Ga. on Dec. 20 were told not to
sing religious songs.
They were given a list of 12 Christmas songs the hospital’s pastoral
service “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of
all veterans,” the Athens Banner-Herald reports.
Hospital spokesman Brian Rothwell announced the ban the Monday before
Christmas, saying military veterans “represent people of all faiths.”
said VA policy is “welcoming but respectful of all faiths and the
protection of each veteran’s right to religious freedom and protection
from unwelcomed religious material, to their religious beliefs.”
He said the hospital regrets “any inconvenience or misunderstanding.”
Alleluia Community School principal Dan Funsch told the Athens-Banner Herald that his students were welcomed in 2011 and 2012.
“This is not a religious proselytizing, evangelistic issue,” he said,
noting that the songs are broadcast on radio stations and retail
Tedesco said that while veterans have faced dangerous threats, but “children singing Christmas carols is not among them.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the hospital Dec. 30
saying that federal courts have determined that allowing religious
Christmas carols to be sung “fully complies with the First Amendment.”
It urged the hospital to rescind the policy.
Fusch, the principal, said Christmas and Christmas carols are intended
“to celebrate and honor the birth of Jesus, and if that goal is taken
from us, it is an issue we do not want to be a part of.”
“We do not think it is a good idea to systemically weed out religious Christmas songs from being sung in certain places.”
Other VA hospitals have adopted restrictive policies around Christmas
activities. The VA hospital in Dallas said that homemade Christmas cards
from elementary students at Grace Academy in Prosper, Texas could not
be delivered to veterans because they violated policy.
Some children had
planned to hand deliver some cards, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes
A VA official cited the Veterans Health Administration handbook, saying a
chaplaincy services-led team must review donated cards to determine “if
they are appropriate (non-religious) to freely distribute to patients.”
He said the policy was “in order to be respectful of our veterans’
The cards were instead sent to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio and to a private veterans’ facility in Louisiana.