Fedweek

Ann Arbor, MI, Ann Arbor Healthcare system

The VA has revised its policies on religious symbols and displays and the distribution of religious literature in its facilities, in a reaction to what it called “unfortunate incidents” of disputes over what was allowable under its traditional policies.

The new policies: allow the inclusion of religious content in publicly accessible displays at VA facilities in certain circumstances; allow patients and their guests to request and be provided religious literature, symbols and texts during visits to VA chapels and during treatment; and allow VA chaplains to accept donations of religious literature, cards and symbols and distribute them to VA patients and guests who request them.

For example, it states that religious symbols “may be included in a passive display, including a holiday display, in public areas of VA facilities, if the display is of the type that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols, and practices that simply recognize the important role that religion plays in the lives of many Americans. Such displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others.”

A separate policy says that chaplains further should review donated holiday cards and gifts and “distribute them in accordance with the individually expressed preferences of patients and residents When religious literature is distributed, recipients will be informed of the name of the donor, author, and/or publisher; and will be informed that the views expressed are those of the donor, author and/or publisher, not of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The policies “will help ensure that patrons within VA have access to religious literature and symbols at chapels as requested and protect representations of faith in publicly accessible displays at facilities throughout the department,” an announcement said.