Walter Reed OKs Bibles, 'religious artifacts'

Baptist Press
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Posted: Dec 09, 2011 5:22 PM
Walter Reed OKs Bibles, 'religious artifacts'
NEW YORK (BP) -- Walter Reed National Military Medical Center said it is rescinding a policy that prohibited family members of wounded military troops from bringing Bibles or any religious reading materials to their loved ones.

The decision to rescind the ban came one day after a Republican lawmaker denounced the policy on the House floor and called on President Obama to publicly renounce the military policy.

"The president of the United States should address this and should excoriate the people who brought about this policy and the individual who brought it about should be dismissed from the United States military," Rep. Steve King, R.-Iowa, told Fox News & Commentary.

King spoke from the House floor Dec. 1 blasting a policy memorandum from the commander of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center written by Chief of Staff C.W. Callahan. The Sept. 14 memo covers guidelines for "wounded, ill, and injured partners in care."

"No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit," the policy stated.

"That means you can't bring in a Bible and read from it when you visit your son or your daughter, perhaps -- or your wife or husband," King said. "It means a priest that might be coming in to visit someone on their death bed couldn't bring in the Eucharist, couldn't offer Last Rites."

A spokesperson for the medical center told Fox News Dec. 2 that the policy will be rewritten and its intent will be made "crystal clear."

"The instructions about the Bibles and reading material have been rescinded," said Sandy Dean, a public affairs officer for Walter Reed. "It will be written to articulate our initial intention which was to respect religious and cultural practices of our patients."

Dean said the instruction was "in no way meant to prohibit family members from providing religious items to their loved ones at all."

If that's the case, why is the policy being rescinded?

"We don't want there to be any misinterpretation of what we're trying to say," Dean said. "We appreciate Congressman King bringing this to our attention. We don't want our instructions to be ambiguous."

King said the military has some explaining to do.

"I don't think there's any excuse for it and there's no talking it away," the congressman said. "The very existence of this, whether it's enforced or not, tells you what kind of a mindset is there.

"The idea that these soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that have fought to defend our Constitution -- and that includes our First Amendment rights to religious liberty -- would be denied that religious liberty when they are lying in a hospital bed recovering from wounds incurred while defending that liberty is the most bitter and offensive type of an irony that I can think of," King said.

The policy also sparked strong condemnation from religious and conservative advocacy groups.

"It flies in the face of not only the Bill of Rights, but 200 years of federal law," said Ken Klukwoski of the Family Research Council. "This current administration is showing unprecedented hostility towards those practicing the Christian faith.

"But beyond that," Klukwoski told Fox News, "We've also seen a militantly secular attitude of trying to sterilize the Defense Department of all references to faith."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, echoed King's demand that whoever is responsible for the memo be fired.

"It cannot be allowed to stand," Land told Fox News. "It must be rescinded and the people responsible for perpetrating it should be fired."

Land said the policy "shows the ugly face of the pseudo-tolerance of secularism."

"They claim to be tolerant but this is as intolerant as you can be -- to not allow wounded soldiers to have religious artifacts," Land said.

King said Americans must "take a very strong stand."

Christians are "generally nice people" and thus can be victimized, he said, adding, "There was a reason that Christ gave us the demonstration of righteous anger when He threw the money changers out of the temple. It gives us some license to throw these kinds of people out of the military."

King said he's been alarmed at a trend he's seen to scrub Christianity from the military -- most recently the decision to remove a cross from an Army chapel in northern Afghanistan because it violated Army regulations.

Placing the blame on the Obama administration, King said, "This is Orwellian. Who would have believed even two or five years ago that the executive branch of government led by our Commander in Chief Barack Obama would produce some kind of document that would prohibit family members coming into our military hospitals?"

Klukwoski said he's noticed a similar trend in what he called "anti-faith measures."

"We are seeing a shocking level of hostility towards religious faith, but beyond that we've also seen a militantly secular attitude of trying to sterilize the Defense Department of all references to faith and values," Klukwoski said.

Todd Starnes is the host of Fox News & Commentary, heard daily on Fox News Radio stations around the nation. He is the author of "They Popped My Hood and Found Gravy on the Dipstick" and the upcoming "Dispatches From Bitter America." This article first appeared at www.toddstarnes.com. Used by permission.

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