The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

February 7, 2008

Religious symbols to be removed from chapel

The Beckley Veterans Affairs Medical Center has taken steps to remove faith-specific symbols from its chapel, said Debbie Voloski, the hospital’s public affairs director.

Similar actions are being taken at VA hospitals nationwide as the VA attempts to enforce its own policy enacted in July 1953 that states, “Chapels will be appointed and maintained as places for meditation and prayer for members of any faith group or denomination.”

The policy also states that “the labeling of chapel buildings or the erection of chapels for the exclusive use of a particular faith group is contrary to policy.”

Voloski explained that VA chapels must remain neutral when not hosting the services of a particular denomination. For example, following a Baptist service on Sunday morning, Bibles and other Christian symbols must be removed from sight.

Voloski said, “Veterans of all faiths will feel comfortable reflecting, meditating and praying in the chapel.”

For now, the cross remains on the wall at the Beckley VA chapel. Administrators are considering hanging a retractable curtain over the cross to cover the symbol when the chapel is not being used for Christian services.

Voloski said she has received calls from several people, including delegates and congressional offices, who have heard extreme rumors about the policy.

“There has been a lot of misunderstanding,” she said. “But once the callers understand the policy, they are more accepting of it.”

However, there are some area veterans who do not accept the policy. Vernon Barley is a U.S. Air Force veteran who has been involved with the VA hospital through his membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Barley said the chapel at the VA hospital was built several decades ago, and the cross has hung there ever since.

“I don’t think they should try to change it or take it out or cover it up,” he said. “I spent my time in the military fighting for the freedoms of our country. I don’t mind someone from another country coming here and living, but I don’t want them to try to take away our freedoms and rights that we have.”

— E-mail: bbilleter@register-herald.com

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