Easter Bunnies OK, Bibles at Easter Not So Much: The Anti-Religion Crusaders Are at it Again, This Time at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque
These are trying times. At home, we have runaway inflation, attempts to indoctrinate our kids while telling parents they have no say their children’s education, an unending influx of illegal immigrants crossing our sieve of a southern border, and a President who always seems to make the wrong decision, to name but a few of our problems. Abroad, there is war in Ukraine, the Russians are threatening to use chemical or nuclear weapons, China is engaging in provocative military drills aimed at Taiwan, and North Korea is once again testing long-range missiles.
In addition to the foregoing, here at home the crusade to secularize the country continues apace. One of the country’s well-known anti-Bible advocates (who takes special exception to what he calls “the sectarian Christian Bible”) has surfaced again. This time he has charged that displaying Bibles and other Christian literature alongside a display of chocolate Easter bunnies and other goodies commonly associated with Easter in a gift shop at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque has crossed the dreaded red line that separates church and state and, hence, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Rubbish!
What is worse than the advocate’s continuously misstating and misinterpreting what the Establishment Clause actually forbids is that the leadership at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center apparently swallowed his argument hook, line, and sinker and within 24 hours, they had ordered the display of literature removed.
The Constitution requires the government to be neutral toward religion, to neither favor it nor inhibit it. By removing only the religious display while leaving the secular display of Easter bunnies, the government singled out religion for special detriment—which it may not lawfully do.
Displaying religious literature and offering it for sale in a gift shop along with other items does not violate the Establishment Clause or any other clause of the Constitution, no matter how forcefully one claims it does.
Along with Christmas, Easter is a time when many Christians exchange gifts. It makes sense for a gift shop to offer the type of items popular at Easter. Offering a religious product that visitors to your gift shop are looking for and wish to purchase—even in a gift shop in a federal facility like a VA Medical Center—does not mean that the government is either endorsing the message contained in the literature offered or favoring the faith group the literature reflects. To suggest otherwise is nonsense.
The gift shop at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center is a business, not a charity. It selects and offers goods for sale that it believes will sell. If it offers goods that do not sell, it can reasonably decline to carry such goods in the future. Bottom line: The Bibles and other literature dealing with Easter were on display for sale because there was a demand for such items. That is a business decision, pure and simple. Such decisions are made daily by business owners. To say that a sound business decision regarding what products to offer violates separation of church and state is nonsense.
Moreover, there has to be a balance between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. It is disturbing that veterans – men and women who served our country in uniform, who defended our constitutional rights “against all enemies, foreign and domestic” – could be denied the right to purchase for themselves and others religious literature of their choice (which would accord with their Free Exercise right). Some of those treated by the VA in medical centers across the country cannot leave the grounds for some reason. The decision made by leaders at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center removes the option of purchasing religious literature from them, thereby inhibiting their free exercise right.
In response to this situation, we have written a legal letter to the Interim Director of the Albuquerque VA Medical Center to inform her that her decision, rather than upholding the Constitution, actually violated it; to explain the applicable law; and to demand that the display of Christian literature be returned forthwith to the gift shop.
The ACLJ values the service of all who have served our Nation in uniform, and we have a special place in our hearts for those injured during their service who receive aid from the VA medical centers around the country. We intend to protect their rights, rights they protected for us by their very service in uniform.