Noem Urges VA to Pull Aside Curtains, Allow Ft. Meade Chapel’s Stained Glass to Show

Noem Urges VA to Pull Aside Curtains, Allow Ft. Meade Chapel’s Stained Glass to Show

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Kristi Noem wrote a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin this week, urging him to pull aside the curtains and allow the Christian-themed stained glass within the Ft. Meade hospital’s chapel to shine through.

“The VA’s policy regarding religiously neutral spaces has the effect of obscuring the cherished windows within the Ft. Meade hospital’s chapel for a majority of those who visit,” said Noem. “While I understand our veterans come from diverse backgrounds, many South Dakotans have shared concerns with me about the chapel’s windows being covered. There seems to be a commonsense, alternate path forward. Rather than keeping the windows continuously covered, only opening the blinds when a service is occurring, the windows should be left uncovered as a matter of course, with the option to cover them should a religiously-neutral space be requested. Let’s pull aside the curtains and let this cherished stained glass shine through.”

The Veterans Health Administration’s Directive 1111 requires that VA facilities’ chapels be “religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith tradition” at all times, unless a religious service is occurring. In the case of chapels that were built with permanent religious symbols in the walls or windows, like Ft. Meade, a separate religiously neutral room must be designated. It was decided that Ft. Meade would comply with Directive 1111 by instituting a policy whereby the windows are covered with blinds or curtains, except when a religious service is in process. This policy ostensibly ensures a consistently religiously neutral space, save for occasions dedicated specifically for religious services. Unfortunately, the policy also has the effect of obscuring the cherished windows for a majority of those who visit the chapel.

In her letter, Rep. Noem proposes that the windows be left uncovered as a matter of course, with the option to cover them at any time, using the existing blinds and curtains, should a religiously-neutral space be requested. This solution could respect the desires of most chapel visitors for the windows to remain uncovered, while ensuring a religiously neutral space, when appropriate.

January 11, 2018

Dear Secretary Shulkin,

Thank you for your efforts, and those of the entire Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to ensure our country lives up to the promises it has made to our veterans. I write to you today to make you aware of an issue that has been of concern to many of my constituents for several years.

The Fort Meade VA Medical Center is located in Veterans Integrated Services Network 23, and is one of two VA medical centers in western South Dakota. It serves veterans from across South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. While the Ft. Meade hospital obviously serves veterans’ physical ailments, it also serves their spiritual needs, especially in its chapel facility.

The chapel features two permanent stained glass windows – one interior and one exterior – that display Christian themes. These windows are visually impressive and have considerable value to those who visit the chapel regularly. Indeed, I understand one of the windows, which is approximately 30 years old, was a gift from several veteran organizations that raised money for its installation. Unfortunately, since 2014, these windows have been largely obscured in an effort to comply with Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Directive 1111, published in 2016.

As you know, Directive 1111 requires that VA facilities’ chapels be “religiously neutral, reflecting no particular faith tradition” at all times, unless a religious service is occurring. In the case of chapels that were built with permanent religious symbols in the walls or windows, like Ft. Meade, a separate religiously neutral room must be designated. I am told space is at a premium at Ft. Meade, so no separate religiously neutral space can be offered.

I understand that Ft. Meade’s leadership, in conjunction with the national VHA, decided to comply with Directive 1111 by instituting a policy whereby the windows are covered with blinds or curtains, except when a religious service is in process. This policy ostensibly ensures a consistently religiously neutral space, save for occasions dedicated specifically for religious services. Unfortunately, the policy also has the effect of obscuring the cherished windows for a majority of those who visit the chapel.

In discussions with some who utilize the chapel facility at Ft. Meade, it has come to my attention that this policy may be objectionable to many of the veterans served there. Chapel patrons seem to prefer leaving the windows visible and accessible for visitors. To accomplish that end, I believe there may be an alternative path forward: the windows may be left uncovered as a matter of course, with the option to cover them at any time, using the existing blinds and curtains, should a religiously-neutral space be requested. This solution could respect the desires of most chapel visitors for the windows to remain uncovered, while ensuring a religiously neutral space, when appropriate.

While much thought and discussion has gone into the current policy at Ft. Meade, I respectfully urge you to respond to my constituents’ concerns by considering the alternative I have proposed.

Thank you for your assistance. If you have questions, please contact my office at 202-225-2801.

Sincerely,

Kristi Noem

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One Reply to “Noem Urges VA to Pull Aside Curtains, Allow Ft. Meade Chapel’s Stained Glass to Show”

  1. Springer

    I agree! In order to avoid possibly offending a very few, they are taking away the right of probably over 99% who would like to experience the window during meditation.

    Reply

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