Local News

Former Chaplain Takes on VA's Christian Symbolism Ban

Posted March 17, 2008 7:02 p.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2008 6:41 a.m. EDT

— The former chaplain of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Fayetteville is taking a fight for Christian symbolism to the City Council.

“It's nothing more than a big, bare room – an empty room with a museum-type effect,” former Chaplin Archie Barringer said in describing  how the hospital chapel looks today.

In September, hospital staff removed images of Jesus from the altar. A cross was replaced with plastic flowers, and paper shades were used to cover stained glass windows that have Christian symbols.

"Later on, someone came in and sawed the crosses off the back of the pulpit chair,” Barringer said.

Two months later, Barringer resigned as the hospital's chief chaplain.

"I would say this has gone beyond the point of neutralization to desecration,” he said.

The VA says it is is honoring a longstanding policy that requires chapels to remain religiously neutral.

Keith Ethridge, the national director of VA chaplains, said chapels must make all faiths feel welcome.

Barringer doesn't agree. He wants City Council members to write letters to the state's congressional delegation about allowing VA chapels to reflect what he called the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage.

He is "requesting that the regulation be rescinded, revamped and rewritten in order that our Judeo-Christian symbols of faith be restored to our chapel,” he said.

The chapel is not devoid of all Christian symbols. Bibles are on tables. A video that plays depicts Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount.

"I don't believe in discriminating against anyone, and I believe that we should certainly provide for all faith groups,” Barringer said.

Barringer supports having a separate room devoted to multiple faiths, he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said the Christian symbols were removed after complaints during a Sept. 11 anniversary service.

Barringer's proposal was heard during Monday night's City Council meeting