Fox News Mislabels Group Seeking Vet Bible Removal an “Atheist Organization”

Fox News’ coverage of a lawsuit filed against the Veterans Administration seeking to have a Bible removed from a POW/MIA “Missing Man” table at a veterans heath facility incorrectly labeled the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as an “atheist organization.” The mischaracterization of the MRRF has been disseminated by news organizations that have run with the Fox News coverage. MRFF President Michael Weinstein has demanded a correction from Fox News.

The locked boxed Bible at the Manchester VAMC’s “Missing Man” table

Weinstein has complained to Fox News Channel Producer Alexandria that she had ambushed him by sending an email asking for a statement for an upcoming Fox & Friends story at 1:49 am, which was too late for him to respond to. Describing the MRFF as a secular civil rights advocacy organization, he’s asked that Fox News correct its assertion that the MRFF is an atheist group.

The MRFF has approximately 64,000 veterans and active duty service members, 95% of whom are practicing Christians. In the name of Fox News’s assertion that it stands for “Fair and Balanced Reporting,” Weinstein has demanded that it run a statement about the group’s membership and provide equal time to respond to what he feels are mischaracterizations about the group and the lawsuit.

That Fox News would characterize the lawsuit as coming from atheists would be unusual as the plaintiff in the lawsuit is a devout Christian — if it came from a major news organization other than Fox. That the veterans health facility is in Manchester, New Hampshire may explain not only Fox News’ faux pas, but the reason the Veterans Administration is taking a hard line stance.

Manchester Veterans Affair Medical Center user James Chamberlain objected to the display of a large, altar-sized Bible on the MVAMC’s Prisoner of War/Missing in Action “Missing Man” table. The table is situated in the MVAMC main entrance. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had received 14 complaints asking that the Bible be removed, mostly from vets who identify as Christian. The MRFF then contacted the Manchester VAMC and it was removed within three hours. A backlash then ensued and the Bible eventually was put in a display case at the entrance, a compromise seemingly brokered by the local VAMC leadership. The Bible eventually was put back on the table inside a locked Plexiglas box.

The “Missing Man” table at the Manchester Veterans Medical Center

After the return of the Bible, Chamberlain became the 15th person to complain to the MRFF. A former Air Force pilot, Chamberlain volunteered to be the public face of the opposition to what he and the 14 others saw as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state. He agreed to sue. According to the MRFF’s Weinstein, this is the first time that a Bible display at a Veterans Health Administration facility has led to litigation. The lawsuit was filed by the prominent Manchester law firm Nixon Vogelman Slawsky Simoneau.

Headlines for links to related stories on Fox News’ online page featuring the Vet Bible page story include “The University Killed the Bible. It’s Now the Stupidest Place in America,” “Portland Gives Atheists Civil Rights Protections Against Discrimination,” “Christian Persecution Close to ‘Genocide Levels,’ Largely Ignored Due to ‘Political Correctness.’” The one other linked story headlined on the page deals with the heartbreak suffered by Amelia Earhart after she had an abortion, the “war on the unborn” being yet another hot button issues for Fox News fans. Donald Trump, whose gag order release for certain sex partners contained an abortion clause in the boilerplate, declared himself pro-life in his quest for the Republican nomination, in an Henri (“Paris vaut bien une messe”) Bourbon-style conversion on the hustings.

The theme of the Fox News page that the Vet Bible story anchors is the persecution of Christians and the triumph of atheism. The misidentification of the MRFF as n atheist organization fits this theme. Fox News is the key link in the chain of media that have enabled Trump true-believers to ignore the President’s demonstrable lies, such as the recent misstatement that his father was born in Germany. This is life in Fox News-mediated Trumpland, where the truth is as disposable as V.A. Secretaries.

Visually, the placing of the Bible in a plastic box on which sits a good-sized Master brand lock has significantly altered the display and its intended meaning. The thick plastic box walls the Bible off from the veterans at the VAMC; the Master lock lying on its side reveals a slit, open only for the key held by a privileged someone, someone with power over the display, someone privileged over other veterans.

The alleged “Faith” symbolism is transmuted into one of possession, possession of rights that not only sets one off from one’s fellow vets, but raises one above them. The focus of the Manchester VAMC’s “Missing Man” table is no longer the Bible itself, but the possession of an asset and its control. Denial of access to the asset now is a key theme the Manchester “Missing Man” table. It is a display of power.

The POW/MIA Association claims that the Bible symbolizes the faith of military personnel, and that this is a secular not a religious faith, a faith that lets military personnel accomplish their mission and survive. Their explanation disingenuously substitutes the word “faith” for willpower; willpower is secular, faith embodied by a Bible is not. But adding a wall of plastic and a lock on top, by creating the trope of the control of an asset by a privilege few, actually validates claims that the Bible display at the Manchester VAMC is secular. This is not a display of a Bible that got a specific veteran through World War II, but is one of the Bible and the Christian religion under siege. It is a right-wing political statement perfectly in tune with Trump Administration policies.

The theme of something sacred yet secular, like the Homeland, being walled off from those who would harm it, with only an elect person holding the key to provide access to that Holy of Holies is the very symbol of Trump’s vision of America. The locked Plexiglas walled off Bible symbolizes the triumph of Donald John Trump as surely as a Christian Bible symbolizes Jesus Christ.

But Christ was a religious fellow. No one has ever seriously claimed Donald John Trump as a man of faith, other than in himself. Donald John Trump is secular all that way. The brilliance of the locked Plexiglas walled off Bible at the Manchester VAMC is its substitution of Donald John Trump for Jesus Christ. Only in Trump’s America, as mediated by Fox News, can a Bible heralding the Good News by one of the greatest religious figures in the history of mankind be secularized into campaign paraphernalia for the most publicly vulgar and most thoroughly secular man to ever be considered the worst President in the entire history of the United States. This is a master stroke that will go down in American history!

The unbelievable claim by the Veteran Administration that the Christian Bible, a religious book, is a secular artifact only makes sense when the display is understood as a secular political statement symbolizing Trump Administration priorities, such as the “defense of religion.” The controversy over the Manchester VAMC’s Missing Man table occurred at the time that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the Blasenburg Peace Cross, a major case involving the separation of church and state.

Fox News’ likely lied about the Military Religious Freedom Foundation as an atheist organization as it sees the Manchester VAMC “Missing Man” table as part of Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Demonizing perceived Trump enemies, or enemies of Trump’s friends as “non-believers” will be part of the Trump reelection brouhaha.

The critical importance of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary and the Veterans Administration’s choice of the Manchester VAMC to serve as a pioneer of the new public-private paradigm for veterans care likely are the reasons that Trump’s V.A. has chosen to draw a line in the sand in New Hampshire, with Fox News backing them all the way. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Willkie was in Manchester in April to talk about the new model and to state the V.A.’s commitment to reducing veteran suicide. It is highly improbable that Robert Willkie, one of four men to serve under Trump in the precarious position was unaware of the Bible controversy. Willkie has served as V.A. Secretary twice!

Fox News’ classification of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation among the unfaithful, as non-believers helps elucidate the situation in Manchester. It is well within reason to speculate that the Veterans Administration stalwart defense of a locked Bible smothered by plastic whose words are available to no one at the Manchester VAMC is an act calculated to cement Trump’s alliance with the evangelical right in a state whose primary he needs to win. Trump’s win in New Hampshire in 2016 made him the front-runner for the Republican nomination. New Hampshire was the key to the presidency, and he likely sees New Hampshire and its evangelical Christians as the key to his reelection.

Fox News is using the Bible display controversy as a tool in the Trump reelection campaign. Because of Trump’s inability to increase his level of support, the assistance of militant evangelical Christians is more important than ever. In Manchester, New Hampshire, the infinite mysteries that are part of the jockeying for votes has transmogrified the Holy Bible into a political football.

I am a writer who lives in New Hampshire

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Jon Hopwood

Jon Hopwood

I am a writer who lives in New Hampshire

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