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Religious Exercise and Expression in VA Facilities

Happy Holidays

VA appreciates religious groups and other organizations that wish to celebrate the holidays with our Veterans. Here are the guidelines to help you observe the season with our patients and residents.

By Hans Petersen
Tuesday, November 24, 2015

May your organization or church group visit VA hospitals over the holiday season to sing Christmas carols for our Veterans? Sure. What about the Jewish, Muslim and other faiths? You are welcome.

May you donate cards and gifts if they have a religious message? Of course.

You’ll need to check with the hospital first to coordinate your visit.

Here are all the rules and regulations. Click on the link for a 9-page memo that spells it all out. Some of the most frequently asked questions are below.

As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, so do the religious affiliations and belief systems of its citizens.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to maintaining a diverse workforce and inclusive work environment and to protecting First Amendment freedoms. As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, so do the religious affiliations and belief systems of its citizens.

VA is mindful and respectful of the diverse belief systems and the First Amendment rights of all Veterans, VA employees and our stakeholders. VA honors and respects the humanity of all and protects the freedoms and rights guaranteed for each of us.

May Veterans exercise and express their faith in VA facilities?

Yes. VA must ensure that where Veterans are in its care and charge, their rights to exercise and express their faiths are protected.

VA provides chaplains and arranges for community clergy for Veterans who are hospitalized and wish to receive religious counseling. Veterans are subject to the rules regarding the use of VA facilities including the requirement that any service, ceremony, or demonstration must be authorized by the head of the facility.

Does a Veteran need to be hospitalized to attend a holiday celebration?

No. Religious observances at VAMC chapels welcome all who wish to attend as Veterans. We always make our hospitalized Veterans and their family members a priority. Often, staff on duty attend these services and are welcome.

You should check for the dates and times of the faith group celebration of your choice.

May members of the public exercise and express their faith in VA facilities?

Yes, and again, members of the public while in VA facilities are subject to the rules regarding the use of VA facilities including the requirement that any service, ceremony, or demonstration must be authorized by the head of the facility.

Is it permissible for Veterans Health Administration facilities to receive donations of cards and gifts for distribution to patients and residents in VHA facilities if the cards and gifts include a religious message?

Yes. VA greatly appreciates holiday donations, gifts, and volunteerism by individuals and organizations on behalf of Veterans of all faiths and backgrounds. The hospital Director, the Chief of Chaplain Service and the Chief of Voluntary Service have been delegated authority to accept donations and gifts. Chaplain Service and Voluntary Service personnel collaborate to review holiday cards and gifts and distribute them in accordance with the individually expressed preferences of patients and residents.

Does VA allow outside groups or individuals to sing religious and secular songs during holidays on VA property?

Yes. On VA property, events by outside groups or individuals, such as services, ceremonies, or demonstrations, are welcomed but need to be authorized by the head of the facility.

When deciding whether to allow outside groups or individuals to sing holiday songs in a particular location such as the lobby, an auditorium or a chapel, the director of the VA facility has to determine whether doing so will benefit VA patients and employees and whether the activity will interfere with the operation of the facility.

If a VA facility director authorizes an outside group or individual to perform holiday songs, similarly-situated groups or individuals also must be permitted to use the space for such activities.

VA also must ensure that it does not act in a manner that would lead a reasonable observer to conclude that it is sponsoring, endorsing or inhibiting religion generally or favoring or disfavoring a particular religion.

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