Student carolers welcomed to sing freely at Augusta VA again

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 1:52 PM
Last updated Wednesday, May 7, 2014 4:00 AM
  • Follow Metro

Alleluia Community School students are welcome to sing religious Christmas carols again in public patient areas at Augusta’s Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

School administrators said Tuesday that VA Director Bob Hamilton apologized for his staff’s restricting student carolers to the hospital’s chapel last December and forcing them to sing from a pre-approved list of 12 nonreligious Christmas songs that the facility’s Pastoral Service “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all veterans.”

Alleluia leaders said in a statement to The Augusta Chronicle that Hamilton assured them their students “are welcome to sing their own repertoire of songs and carols, including those with religious content, without discrimination at locations appropriate for singing within the VA.”

The “amicable agreement” brings a peaceful ending to an incident that drew more than four months of national criticism from veterans and residents, members of the Alleluia Community, First Amendment law firms, congressional leaders and representatives of The American Legion.

Bob Garrett, Alleluia Community School’s overall coordinator and administrative team chairman, said that the private south Augusta Christian school accepts Hamilton’s apology, appreciates his candor and good will in handling this matter, and is overjoyed a resolution could be reached.

“We did not want to take them to court, but we would have. We were prepared for that event,” Garrett said. “It means a lot to us to be able to serve veterans and to try to make a difference in encouraging them with our music and presence.”

In its statement, the school thanked hospital leaders for clarifying questions that arose from the Dec. 20 incident, in which Alleluia students left the hospital without singing carols because of the Augusta VA’s taking a stricter stance on a 5-year-old policy it had against imposing religion on patients.

Though students had sung at the hospital without incident in previous years, Hamilton said during a March 5 meeting with school administrators that VA policies “uphold the right to free exercise of religion by all medical, domiciliary and nursing home patients,” which he said includes providing or facilitating appropriate worship opportunities.

Hamilton told the school that the hospital did not and does not have policies that allow “viewpoint discrimination” or prevent groups from singing Christmas carols.

He added that compiling such a list of approved Christmas songs “did not represent the (medical center’s) position” and acknowledged that the hospital is awaiting additional guidance or policy clarification from national VA leadership following the completion of reviews of governing policy on such matters.

The apology was well-received by the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

“We are pleased to hear that Augusta VA Medical Center officials have acknowledged their mistake in curtailing the celebration of Christmas in 2013 and pledged not to repeat it in 2014 and beyond,” said Rep. Jeff Miller. “We will be watching closely to ensure VA facilities across the country don’t allow political correctness to unjustly interfere with activities honoring Christmas or any other federal holidays in the future.”

The Augusta VA said in a statement that Hamilton was grateful for the opportunity to correct any misunderstanding.

“Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center has a deep commitment to Veterans and our community,” the statement read. “We welcome the holiday carolers from the Alleluia School Choir. Veterans and staff alike enjoy their songs, camaraderie and cheerful presence. We look forward to their visit this coming holiday season.”

Comments (16) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
ralphinga 05/06/14 - 02:36 pm
The. "Supremes" ruling

The recent Supreme Court ruling allowing prayer to initiate civic meetings would have also ended the corrupt assertion that Christmas carols having any religious connotations were in some way akin to establishing state sponsored religion. The casual celebration of faith, any faith, is seen by the court as "okay" so long as no one is forced to join in saying the prayer. It is also likely to be read as implicitly sanctioning Christian and other religious displays on public property, including Christmas trees and Nativity scenes during the holiday season. Seems that common sense has struck the "Supremes". Justice Anthony M. Kennedy,, said those who "feel excluded or disrespected" by such religious invocations could simply ignore them. "Adults often encounter speech they find disagreeable," he said. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back.

harley_52 05/06/14 - 03:06 pm

...for those who knew for sure the local VA staff had made a big mistake with the decision to censor the children hoping to bring joy to hospitalized veterans at Christmas time.

And a lesson in the power of goodwill, hope, and charity for those few who supported the grinch-like decision to hide God and goodwill from the sick veterans at the hospital.

Bizkit 05/06/14 - 11:34 pm
Great posits Ralphinga I

Great posits Ralphinga I agree!

justthefacts 05/07/14 - 08:45 am

Yep, the good guys win again. Some folks on here were wrong again.

Riverman1 05/07/14 - 09:29 am
Power of the Constitution

Once again we see our forefathers, the writers of the Constitution, show their wisdom to protect our rights and prevent the federal government from being our king.

AutumnLeaves 05/07/14 - 10:32 am
Good news and some common

Good news and some common sense. How refreshing!

Darby 05/07/14 - 04:20 pm

Deck my Halls....

Good news in an era where common sense has become an uncommon trait.

Carol Jackson
Carol Jackson 05/08/14 - 07:06 am
Freedom of Religion

If anyone comes into my room singing Christmas Carols I'll tell them in no uncertain terms to get the devil out. That noise is now starting before Halloween. It has lost all religious meaning and is purely retail. I feel enraged when I hear anything related to the season. I avoid all shopping areas and recluse because I find the music and religious decorations offensive. Christmas is one of the major seasons for suicide. Anyone wonder why?

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs