UPDATE: WITHIN 90 MINUTES OF MIKEY WEINSTEIN SENDING A DEMAND THAT THE CROSS BE REMOVED, THE CROSS WAS REMOVED!!!
Nineteen veterans who receive medical care at the Austin VA Clinic in Texas have asked the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to help them get a large, prominently displayed cross removed from the facility. This very large cross, made up of rough copies of the military branch emblems arranged into the shape of a Christian cross, sending the message that our military is a Christian military and only Christian veterans matter, dominates a seating area in the first floor lobby of the building, where veterans of all religions and none are treated. While the VA recognizes 78 different faith symbols, 38 of which are not Christian, the only faith displayed at the Austin VA Clinic is the preferred and promoted Christian faith.
As one of the veterans wrote to MRFF:
From: (Veteran’s/MRFF Client’s name withheld)
Subject: Cross at Austin VA Clinic
Date: March 16, 2023 at 4:44:39 PM MDT
To: Mikey Weinstein
Mr. Weinstein, I am writing you regarding a cross on display at the Austin VA clinic.
By way of introduction, my name is (name withheld) and I live in Travis County, TX near Lake Travis. I am a Viet Nam vet with a 20% service-connected disability. To get treatment for my disability, I must go to the Austin VA Clinic on Metropolis Drive.
On prominent display on the first floor of the clinic is a large cross. As a Jew I find this offensive, especially given that none of the other 28 religious symbols identified by Wikipedia are given the same prominent display. I would wager that whoever authorized the placement of the cross would be quite reluctant to display a Satanic symbol if they were offered one.
I would appreciate your help in getting this cross removed, and have attached photos of the cross and its plaque.
I hereby transfer all right, title, and interest in the attached photographs to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Not all the veterans who want this cross removed are non-Christians. Some, like the writer of the following email — a youth ministries leader at their Christian church — are Christian, as are 95% of MRFF’s over 83,000 clients:
From: (Former U.S. Army Soldier’s/MRFF Client’s email address withheld)
Subject: Remove that Christian Cross
Date: March 19, 2023 at 11:58:55 PM MDT
To: Information Weinstein
Mr. Weinstein and the MRFF please have the VA take down that Christian cross immediately!
As one of the MRFF’s clients here please do not disclose my name or other personal ID for me.
I am a former U.S. soldier who lives in the Austin, Texas area and I am a patient at the Austin VA clinic.
I am also a Youth Ministries Leader at the Christian Church where my wife and kids go here in the Austin area.
I’m ashamed I didn’t come forward sooner to object to the big Christian cross that is in the lobby of this VA clinic.
I fought in hard combat for the 6 weeks of the Second Battle of Fallujah, Iraq from November to December of 2004. It was also called Operation Phantom Fury.
I am alive today because my battle buddy, (name withheld), took two bullets meant for me in a nasty fire fight one night. He is a fully enrolled member of the (Native American tribe name and location withheld) tribe from the state of (U.S. state name withheld). He survived but lost one of his legs where the bullets hit. I owe him my life.
I watched my battle buddy take a load of crap for not being a Christian like me and most of our unit. When I walk into the lobby of the Austin VA clinic and see that cross hanging there I think of (name withheld) all the time. It makes me feel awful and I should have stood up before. My battle buddy would have wanted me to and I know I should have.
Where is the separation of church and state there?
Please have the VA do what’s right and remove that Christian cross from the main lobby of their VA clinic here in Austin.
Thank you for all you do!
(Former U.S. Army Soldier’s name, rank, phone number, and address all withheld)
The veterans who have sought MRFF’s help very simply want the Austin VA Clinic to follow the VA’s own regulations regarding religious displays, such as VA Directive 0022, "Religious Symbols in VA Facilities," January 31, 2020, which states (emphasis added):
2. POLICY. Religious symbols may be included in a passive display, including a holiday display, in public areas of VA facilities (see subsection a. below), if the display is of the type that follows in the longstanding tradition of monuments, symbols and practices that simply recognize the important role that religion plays in the lives of many Americans. Such displays should respect and tolerate differing views and should not elevate one belief system over others. …
b. VA is committed to inclusivity and nondiscrimination and evaluates all displays in public areas on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the policy stated above. VA particularly encourages the placement of diverse religious symbols together in passive displays in public areas.
This cross is not just one item “included” in a display, such as Christian symbols included in a holiday display that also contains secular items and items from other religions, like a menorah. And it is not part of a display “of diverse religious symbols together.” It is the only religious item, prominently displayed on its own, and most certainly does not “respect and tolerate differing views.” What it does is “elevate one belief system over others,” which clearly violates this VA directive.
This cross would not even be allowed as a permanent display in a VA facility chapel, let alone a lobby seating area. VA medical facility chapels are required to be “religiously neutral” at all times when there is not an actual service taking place for a particular faith group, as is clearly stated in VHA Directive 1111, “Spiritual Care,” July 21, 2021 (emphasis added):
9. CHAPELS AND OTHER WORSHIP FACILITIES
a. Chapels. The chapel, or a room set aside exclusively for use as a chapel, must be reserved for patients’ spiritual activities, such as: worship, prayer, meditation and quiet contemplation. Such chapels are appointed and maintained as places for meditation and worship. When VA chaplains are not providing or facilitating a religious service for a particular faith group, the chapel must be maintained as religiously neutral, meaning it cannot be viewed as endorsing one religion over another. Religious literature, content and symbols must be made readily accessible to VA patients and visitors in a chapel or Chaplain Service office at their request. The only exception to the policy on maintaining chapels as religiously neutral are the chapels at VA medical facilities which were built with permanent religious symbols in the walls or windows. In these cases, the VA medical facility Director must also designate an appropriately sized room or construct a religiously neutral chapel, which is maintained in accordance with this VHA directive and VA Space Planning Criteria …
The VA’s regulations look great on paper, but time and time again MRFF is contacted by veterans whose VA facility is blatantly disregarding these regulations. Many of these veterans have no other option for their healthcare. They must go to a VA facility where the non-Christians among them are sent a clear message that they are not of that facility’s preferred religion, something that should never happen to any American at a secular government institution where all should be treated as equal, and most certainly not to the countless non-Christian veterans who have fought to uphold America’s ideals.
The replicas of the military branch seals that make up the cross also fly in the face of the DoD’s regulations on the use of its trademarked emblems. Not only is it prohibited to use these official emblems to promote religion, the “images should not be recreated or altered in any way that distorts the integrity of any Military Service mark.” The artist’s inaccurate recreations of the seals on the cross, while it is clear that they are supposed to be the branch seals, do alter them in a way that distorts their integrity. The endorsement of these inaccurate recreations of the branch seals by the Austin VA Clinic makes the display of this cross even more of a blatant disregard for regulations.
Today, MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein will be sending a letter to the Director for the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, demanding that the facilities under their jurisdiction obey the VA’s unambiguous regulations and that the great big Christian cross in the lobby of the Austin VA Clinic be expeditiously removed.