Vice President Mike Pence has weighed in on a lawsuit over the constitutionality of displaying a Bible at a New Hampshire veterans hospital ― promising his supporters: “The Bible stays.”
Pence’s declaration in support of the religious display at the hospital received a standing ovation at the American Legion’s National Convention in Indianapolis on Wednesday ― perhaps the biggest applause of the night, according to the Indy Star.
The former Indiana governor was referring to a display at the Manchester VA Medical Center that features a Bible carried by a prisoner of war during World War II. The Bible is part of a traditional table memorial to missing veterans and POWs located at the hospital’s entrance.
The historic Bible became the subject of a federal lawsuit filed in May. A U.S. Air Force veteran claimed its presence violated the Constitution’s establishment clause, which stipulates that the government can’t promote any specific religion. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which seeks to prevent the United States Armed Forces from showing favoritism toward any religion, also denounced the display.
During his speech, Pence claimed that under former President Barack Obama’s administration, “VA hospitals were removing Bibles and even banning Christmas carols in an effort to be politically correct.”
There were several instances of Christian religious displays being removed or covered at VA medical centers during the Obama administration, including in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. And in 2013, student volunteers were prohibited from singing Christmas carols with religious themes at a VA hospital in Georgia.
However, these removals were directives from local staff and not from the Obama administration, according to CNN. Some of these decisions were also reversed in response to pushback from Christians — including the ban on Christian Christmas songs.
Pence told the audience that “Under this administration, VA hospitals will not be religion-free zones.”
“We will always respect the freedom of religion of every veteran of every faith,” he said. “And my message to the New Hampshire VA hospital is: The Bible stays.”
The vice president’s stance earned praise from Franklin Graham, a steadfast evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump.
“I appreciate your boldness, Vice President Pence,” Graham, the son of the late American evangelist Billy Graham, wrote on Facebook Thursday.
“We are grateful to you and President Donald J. Trump for consistently defending our religious freedoms.”
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, reacted to Pence’s comments by calling the vice president “one of the most repulsive and repellent fundamentalist Christian supremacists and bullies on the scene today.”
“It is hardly surprising that he is lending his ugly bigotry and pervasive prejudice in support of keeping that Christian bible bolted down on that POW/MIA table at the Manchester, New Hampshire VA Medical Center,” Weinstein said in a statement.