Veep Mike Pence Deceived Vets About V.A. “Bible in a Box”
Vice President Mike Pence repeated a lie about the provenance of the Bible padlocked into a plexiglass box on a POW/MIA table at the Manchester, New Hampshire Veterans Administration Medical Center during a speech at the American Legion Convention. Pence trafficked in a demonstrable falsehood when he told the veterans, “You might’ve heard even today that there’s a lawsuit to remove a Bible that was carried in World War II from a Missing Man table at a V.A. hospital in New Hampshire.”
In fact, as revealed over one month ago in an article in Manchesterink.com, the large, altar-sized Bible that is at the heat of the controversy actually was given to 100-year-old World War II veteran Herman “Herk” Streitburger by his mother after he returned home after the war.
Declaring the Trump Administration’s commitment that Veterans Administration hospitals would not be “religion-free zones,” Vice President Pence was applauded when he said, “And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays.”
Curiously, Pence’s words “The Bible Stays” is the exact same phrase used by Northeast MIA/POW Network head Bob “Doc” Jones” in a Manchesterinklink.com story from last February, when the Bible display controversy first erupted. He was interviewed along with Mikey Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group dedicated to stopping the unconstitutional display of religious material and religious proselytizing at federal institutions.
Speaking on behalf of 14 MRFF members offended by the Bible display, Weinstein asked for the Bible to be removed, and the MVAMC complied. The MVAMC decision was immediately overturned by the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. This led to the lawsuit filed by the MRFF that Vice President Pence mentioned in his American Legion speech.
“This Mikey, he says there are 14 people who were disgusted by the Bible at the VA,” Jones told Manchesterinklink publisher Carol Robidoux. He went on to say, “I don’t care if it’s 14 people or 14,000. I don’t give a fat rat’s ass.”
Jones subsequently declared, “I’m just not moving the Bible. “If someone doesn’t want to see it in the lobby, take another entrance. Turn your head. The Bible stays.”
“THE BIBLE STAYS”
“The Bible stays.” This is the new mantra of the so-called “religious liberty” advocates. Critics like Mikey Weinstein would contend that their idea of religious liberty is having the license to force their version of religion onto others, who under the U.S. Constitution, have a right to be free of enforced religion.
The choice of Bob Jones’ group to host this display — which was erected in the main foyer of the MVAMC across from the picture of Donald Trump rather than in the cafeteria like in other V.A. hospitals — and Pence’s declaration, “I’m not moving the Bible,” begs the question: Why did the MVAMC privilege Jones and the Northeast POW/MIA Network, to having control over the table.
Seeing as the “Missing Man” table was set up in the main entranceway to the MVAMC, located in the largest city of the state that hosts the country’s First in the Nation Primary, at the time that the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing the Blandensburg Peace Cross case, a reasonable person could assume that this was a stealthy attempt to inject politics at the V.A. The sharing of ideals and a mantra could be indicative of a premeditated effort to promote a “religious liberty” agenda in the city where President Donald Trump held the first official campaign rally of his 2020 campaign. Trump mentioned “religious liberty” as one of his concerns in his speech.
The confluence of Jones and Pence’s thinking and words many indicates that, rather than honoring Prisoners of War and those Missing in Action, the Northeast POW/MIA network’s “Missing Man” table crowned by the “Bible in a Box” was one of the first “events” of the Trump 2020 campaign.
Another question that should be asked is this: If evangelical Christians like Mike Pence are willing to lie, what does religious liberty mean? If they are willing to lie about the provenance of a WWII vet’s Bible in order to justify a constitutionally suspect religious display — apparently an act of political opportunism and an act that dishonors that veteran and all veterans — would if be unreasonable to ask whether they are lying when they deny they are not trying to establish their religion as an official state religion?
Since at least the 1980s, the rise of evangelical Christian proselytizing in the all-volunteer army has been remarked upon, and has been a major concern. Active duty military personnel have reported that they have been discriminated against for refusing to be seduced by the proselytizing of their fundamentalist Christian superiors, or suffer from not joining an evangelical clique that dominates a unit.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Wilkie, a frequent visitor to the MVAMC that is spearheading the Trump Administration’s semi-privatization plan , was sworn in on a Bible with a similar size and provenance as the discredited “Bible in a Box.” That is another curious coincidence.
Wilkie claimed his Bible was carried into combat by a World War I vet, which might indicate that the provenance for the MVAMC “Bible in a Box” was fabricated from Wilkie’s story.
In defending the Trump Administration’s licensing of an “Onward Christian soldiers religious crusade” in veterans hospitals, Wilkie claimed the old policy of maintaining a strict separation of church and state was out of time and out of touch with the new military culture.
“The [Obama] administration … had a very ahistoric approach…. They did not know the makeup of the force. They did not know the history of this country when it came to religious foundations, the religious support for those in uniform.”
Raised in a military family, Wilkie claimed that the vast majority of veterans “identify themselves religiously.”
Essentially, Wilkie is admitting that there has been an establishment of religion in the U.S. military, as the influence of evangelical Christians expanded in the all-volunteer military that came into being after the cessation of the draft. The fears that evangelicals would take over the military apparently has come true.
The Department of Veterans Affairs essentially made a bold declaration of what religion the Trump Administration has formally established in mid-May, when non-Christian religions were placed on the MVAMC “Missing Man” table. On May 16th, a veteran had placed a Koran, The Book of Mormon, a Wiccan book, and Jewish prayer book on the table. They were all immediately removed. The V.A. claims it grants the privilege to put up a display, as it did with the Northeast POW/MIA table, and no one can alter an official display.
Department of Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Curt Cashour said,
“We will not tolerate interference with and/or alteration of approved displays — such as this Northeast POW/MIA Network-sponsored POW/MIA table — and as a result these items will be removed.”
Many veterans see the MVAMC’s “Bible in a Box” display for what is is: Not as a war memorial that engages and honors all veterans, but as a vehicle for a client chosen by the Department of Veterans Affairs to advance its agenda, an agenda with starkly specific political and religious aims.
The background of the MVAMC “Bible in a Box” is this: An irreligious President, woefully ignorant of the Bible, a professional huckster who achieved power pandering to evangelical Christians, a man of quick silver beliefs who embraces anything that gives him an advantage, a man with a penchant for lying, chose as his Vice President a man who left the Catholic Church of his family to embrace a militant type of religion. Mike Pence apparently is not shy about lying himself, and neither are his evangelical Christian allies as the ends apparently justify the means.
That end is reelecting Donald Trump. An Administration that elevated a Pence-like Bible-thumper to the top slot of the V.A., has licensed and defended a constitutionally suspect religious display that is congruent with their beliefs, not the beliefs of the veterans community as a whole. That is discriminatory and violates the federal civil rights of veterans who took an oath to defend their country and constitution with their lives.