Will “Bible in a Box” Be Removed from V.A. Hospital Now that Joe Biden is President?

MANCHESTER, NH — The Trump Administration opened a new front in the so-called “War for Religious Liberty” when it became involved in a veterans group’s placement of a Bible on a POW/MIA “Missing Man Table” at a Veterans Health Administration facility in the Granite State’s largest city. This attack on the doctrine of the separation of church and state overturned precedent in federal government facilities, triggering a federal law suit.

The Manchester VA Medical Center’s controversial “Bible in a Box”

Placing the Bible on the POW/M.I.A. table engendered opposition by veterans who used the Manchester VAMC, who objected to the privileging of Christianity in a healthcare facility that serves people of all faiths, and those with none. The Manchester VAMC hosts mental health services, and some veterans could be offended by so obvious a display of religion, as the table was located in the main entrance way.

People who entered at the other entrance on the main level of the VAMC can see the display when going to the elevators to go to appointments, including those with mental health care professionals.

Multiple veterans contacted the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which champions the separation of church and state at military facilities. The MRFF reached out to the Manchester VAMC leadership, and the Bible was removed from the table, before a backlash from Washington made the local apparatchiks put it back.

The group that erected the POW/M.I.A. “Missing Man Table,” the Northeast POW/MIA Group, responded to the opposition of dissenting vets by putting the Bible in a plexiglas box secured by a large padlock. The head of the organization claimed that this was to prevent the Bible from being stolen. If anything, such a claim — as well as the ungainliness of the transformation of a book placed simply on a table into the V.A.’s “Bible in a Box” — made the display even more intrusive.

MRFF President Mikey Weinstein equated the symbolism of the box adorned with a padlock as a “gang symbol.” It was the beginning of a now nearly two-year-long fight between the forces for freedom from state-mandated religion and those proclaiming themselves warriors for “religious liberty.”

Federal Lawsuit

In May 2019, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed suit in federal court against the Veterans Administration for violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. It was a case that attracted the involvement of Vice President Mike Pence.

The MRFF erected a billboard in Manchester, NH directed at Trump & Pence in September 2019

In a speech Trump’s Vice President gave at the 2019 American Legion Convention, he declared that the Manchester VAMC’s Bible in a Box would stay were it was. “V.A. hospitals will not be religion-free zones,” Pence said.

Mikey Weinstein of the MRFF subsequently denounced Vice President Pence as “one of the most repulsive and repellent fundamentalist Christian supremacists and bullies on the scene today.”

Weinstein said that he was not surprised that Pence was ”lending his ugly bigotry and pervasive prejudice in support of keeping that Christian Bible bolted down on that POW/MIA table….”

At the end of January 2021, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), recently appointed to the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, assailed President Joe Biden for removing the POW/MIA flag from atop the White House. In the nearly two years since the controversy erupted, Neither Hassan or the other three politicians who represent New Hampshire in Congress have said a word about the V.A. Bible or lawsuit. All four are Democrats.

On the day that the U.S. Senate began trying the former Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces on charges that he allegedly sent insurgents to stop his own Vice President, Pence, from certifying the election of Biden, the Bible at the heart of the federal case remains the only text on the Manchester VAMC’s Missing Man Table.

Under a ukase issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, no other text but the “Bible in a Box” can adorn that table. It is the only printed matter, sacred or profane, that is allowed to be displayed on the “Missing Man Table” at the Manchester VAMC, other than a photocopy explaining meaning of the table’s symbolism. And even that is in dispute.

Attempts to put other sacred texts from non-Christian religions and a token notebook to legitimate non-believers were rebuffed by the V.A.

The question is, how long will the “Bible in a Box” remain at the Manchester Veterans Administration Medical Center (VAMC), now that Joe Biden’s pick for Veterans Affairs Secretary, Denis McDonough, has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Bible in a Box Brouhaha

Northeast MIA/POW Network President Bob “Doc” Jones, whose organization placed the Bible on a POW/MIA table in the main entrance of the Manchester VAMC, claims it represents all veterans regardless of faith, or lack thereof. However, in Facebook posts, Doc Jones revealed his belief that the Christian Bible is the only valid sacred text on which an American can take a binding oath. It is his belief that a Muslim cannot be a Member of Congress, let alone President of the United States.

An MRFF chartered airplane tows a banner over the Manchester VAMC protesting its Bible in a Box display

His personal views belie Jones’ original claim that the “Bible in a Box” at Manchester’s VAMC was not a religious artifact. If only the Christian Bible can be used to swear an oath under the aegis of God, then it follows that only the Christian Bible is a sacred text in Bob Jones’ America.

Thus, the placement of the Bible, as the sole avenue to God’s grace, takes on the official approved role of being the sacred text of veterans, according to people like Jones.

It also follows, from such reasoning, that all true veterans are of the Christian faith, if the Bible is the only valid book on which to take an oath for the office whose holder becomes Commander in Chief of the Armed forces.

Apparently, if Bob Jones’ belief that the Christian Bible represents everyone of all faiths, as well as those of no faith at all, is genuine, that belief must be rooted in the tradition of Christian proselytizing. That belief system holds that Christianity is the true faith, and those who belong to other religions and non-believers — those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior and have ben born again — must do so to be saved.

Vice President Mike Pence and V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie became involved in the V.A. “Bible in a Box” brouhaha after the pretense that the display was not religious, and the Bible was there merely as an historic artifact, was dropped. Pence, Jones and other warriors for “religious liberty” had to reveal their true intentions, as the story about the Bible having accompanied a World War Two veteran throughout his service in the European Theater of War, including being held in a German POW camp, was revealed to be a lie.

Mike Pence is a former Catholic who was born again into evangelical Christianity and appointed himself as de facto Warrior-in-Chief for “religious liberty” under the notably irreligious Donald Trump, a draft dodger.

Religious liberty to Pence and his kind of true believer fundamentally is the right to proselytize in federal buildings, thumping the Bible, so to speak, for the one true faith, whether the intended audience wants to hear it or not. The unbeliever is fair game for campaigns to convert them to the one true faith, wherever they are encountered, including military hospitals. (Pence not only was once a Catholic, he was once a Democrat. Apparently, the Republican Party is the one true party, too.)

In this logic, to not be a Christian is to not be truly religious. Everyone must come to Christ to be a true believer. There is only one true religion, as there is only one true holy book that can adorn the Northeast MIA/POW Networks’ table that honors all veterans.

Only under this “logic” can the assertion that a Bible represents all faiths and those lacking faith be understood. Seemingly, this is what justifies the militance of Jones and his ilk.

It was a stance given the approval of the federal government, through Mike Pence and V.A. Secretary Robert Wilkie. In 2020, Wilkie disgraced himself by defending the presence of tombstones in veterans cemeteries adorned with Nazi swastikas. It was another fight brought to Wilkie by the MRFF, one he lost.

Bigotry at the V.A.

The Sunday New York Times featured an opinion piece, ‘Mind Boggling’ and ‘Deadly.’ This is the Trump V.A.s Legacy, decrying the racism that suffused the Veterans Administration under Donald Trump’s watch. The subtitle of the op-ed posed a question:

It needs to be cleaned up right away,” one employee said. Will Denis McDonough, Biden’s pick for V.A. secretary, help repair what’s broken?

Northeast POW/MIA Group President Doc Jones’ assertion that the Bible is the only sacred text under the U.S. Constitution is logically absurd, but religion seldom is rooted in logic. However, his view became the view of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which ordered that a Koran and three other religious texts, including a Jewish prayer book and a blank notebook, be removed from the Manchester VAMC Missing Man Table.

One wonders if the Biden Administration, under newly confirmed Veterans Affairs Secretary McDonough, will allow veterans hospitals to remain so accommodating to people who many other people, not just veterans, consider bigots.



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