A Christian-based legal group demanded Monday that the director of the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta rescind hospital policy prohibiting school children and other well-wishers from singing religious Christmas carols in public patient areas.
In a letter mailed to administrator Bob Hamilton, the Alliance Defending Freedom stated that the facility’s decision to exclude religious music likely violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.
The 20-year-old national nonprofit organization cited numerous decisions from the U.S. Supreme and Appeals courts in its defense, and gave the medical center until Jan. 10 to respond to its request.
Jeremy Tedesco, the senior legal counsel leading the alliance’s case, said if no action is taken, a possible lawsuit could be in the works.
“Our nation’s veterans have time and again faced and defeated dangerous threats to the liberties we cherish as American citizens – children singing Christmas carols is not among them,” Jeremy Tedesco said. “By banning these Christmas carols, the VA is trampling the very religious freedoms our veterans have sacrificed so much to defend. Contrary to what hospital officials are claiming, they are disrespecting – not respecting – constitutionally protected religious freedoms.”
Augusta’s downtown VA Medical Center told high school students from the city’s Alleluia Community School last week that they must choose different music if they want to perform in the public areas in light of a 5-year-old policy they were more strictly enforcing.
Despite facing no resistance at the hospital in 2011 and 2012, the students were given a pre-approved list of 12 non-religious Christmas songs that the hospital’s Pastoral Service “deemed appropriate for celebration within the hearing range of all veterans.”
They were told nonsecular songs could be sung in the hospital’s chapel.
Tedesco said the VA’s policy appears to be nothing more than “political correctness run amok.”
“The Constitution clearly prohibits the VA from targeting religious Christmas carols for exclusion from a public facility,” said Matt Sharp, Tedesco’s co-counsel on the case. “We hope our letter will help clear up the misinformation upon which the VA is acting and that it will lift its unnecessary and unconstitutional ban.”
The alliance issued its letter Monday from its Georgia office and expects the Augusta VA to receive it Tuesday. Pete Scovill, a spokesman for the Augusta VA, declined comment until receipt of the letter, which he said the hospital has yet to receive.
In its defense, VA administration cited last week a 2008 rule in the Veterans Health Administration Handbook, stating that its leadership “may restrict or prohibit any practice that it deems detrimental to the health or safety of patients.”