January 12, 2008 – The director of the Fayetteville Veterans Affairs Medical Center told hospital employees Friday that he ordered Bibles and crosses removed from the hospital chapel to follow national VA policy.
The director, Bruce Triplett, told the employees that some information published in opinion pieces in The Fayetteville Observer was inaccurate.
Triplett spoke to about 100 employees during a town hall-style forum. A reporter for the Observer was not permitted to attend, but spoke with Triplett after the meeting.
Triplett said he spoke to employees about the chapel policies because, “I wanted them to understand what the issues really are.”
The issues started last year when Triplett ordered the Bible and cross moved from the chapel’s altar to the chaplains’ office, in an effort to follow a federal policy that chapels in VA hospitals be religiously neutral.
He said incorrect information has fueled rumors among hospital employees that have upset some of them.
“A lot of our employees have only been seeing or hearing what was written in the newspaper,” he said, referring to columns published in the Fayetteville Observer’s opinion section. The columns were written by two veterans fighting to have the religious articles returned to the chapel.
The two veterans — Joseph Kinney and Laud Pitt Jr. — have argued that the hospital is suppressing Christians’ freedom of religion by taking the Bible and cross out of the chapel.
Kinney and Pitt have partnered with the Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit conservative legal organization that defends religious liberties and human rights, to fight the decision to remove the religious articles.
A lawyer for the Rutherford Institute wrote Triplett a letter in November implying that if the articles were not replaced, the institute would sue.
Nisha Mohammed, media coordinator for the institute, said earlier this week that the Institute has not decided whether to pursue a lawsuit.
Kinney is a member of the Observer’s Community Advisory Board, a 12-person group that writes opinion pieces and meets with the newspaper’s editorial board to discuss issues.
Triplett said Friday that he told hospital employees he was simply following federal orders and trying to keep the chapel open and inviting to patients of all faiths.
He said Christian symbols could be in place during Christian services.
He said ministers or friends could bring Bibles or other religious articles when visiting patients at the hospital.
Norma Byrd, public affairs officer for the hospital, said that most employees seemed supportive of the hospital and its policies.
Triplett said he wanted the employees to understand the reasons why the Bible and cross were removed.
“I just wanted people to know what the truth is,” he said. “From my perspective.”