Local News

Volunteer: Vets Hospital Taking Away Freedom of Religion, Speech

Posted December 14, 2007 6:36 p.m. EST
Updated December 14, 2007 9:02 p.m. EST

— It's a house of worship with none of the symbols. There are no crosses or Bibles on display at the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center chapel. Blinds cover elaborate stained glass windows.

The reason is a federal policy from the 1950s, but one volunteer says it has been taken too far.

Laud Pitt plans to hand out Christmas cards at the hospital Tuesday. But to do it, he says, he'll have to be escorted by the chaplain.

"Isn't that a waste of money for a chaplain to spend that much time making sure I say the right thing?" Pitt said.

Pitt said he has been told he can no longer read scripture to patients or pray with them, because it's against policy.

“I think it's a travesty,” he said.

It's the latest in a series of discouraging news to the Vietnam veteran, who was already upset about changes in the hospital chapel.

“They've taken away freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Pitt said.
Bibles, crosses and fine linens have been put in a closet and are available only upon request. A spokesperson said the hospital is just following VA policy written in the 1950s.

When not in use for a religious service, the chapel must be maintained as religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith, the spokesperson said.

“These men fought for our country, and they are due all the dignity and respect they can possibly get,” Pitt said. “I don't want them praying against a blank wall or a bowl full of plastic flowers."

Tuesday will be Pitt's last visit as a volunteer at the VA Medical Center, he said.

Meanwhile, a conservative non-profit agency has been looking at legal options. An attorney from the Rutherford Institute asked the medical center to restore the Christian chapel and open a separate interfaith room.