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  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs updated its policies last week to better protect the religious liberty of U.S. military veterans and their families.
  • The revised rules, effective last Wednesday, assure that religious displays and pastoral care remain accessible and protected from discrimination.

“We want to make sure that all of our veterans and their families feel welcome at VA, no matter their religious beliefs,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.

“These important changes will bring simplicity and clarity to our policies governing religious and spiritual symbols, helping ensure we are consistently complying with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at thousands of facilities across the department.”

In the announcement, the department gave examples of times the rules had been inconsistently applied, particularly around Christmas. In 2013, a VA facility in Georgia stopped a student choir from singing Christmas carols. That same year, a VA hospital in Iowa told American Legion representatives they couldn’t pass out presents that were wrapped in paper with “Merry Christmas” or other religious references on it, and a VA hospital in Dallas wouldn’t receive handmade Christmas cards from schoolchildren because they had religious language. In 2015, backlash from veterans and employees led a VA facility in Salem, Va., to reverse its ban on Christmas trees. The revision is intended to clear up the confusion and inconsistency that led to the limitations on Christmas celebrations. It also specifically mentioned that veterans must be allowed access to religious literature when they request it.

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