A Bible on display at a memorial at New Hampshire’s veterans hospital should be removed because it is a violation of the First Amendment, a U.S. Air Force veteran said in a federal lawsuit Tuesday.
The Bible was carried by a prisoner of war in World War II and became part of the Missing Man Table honoring missing veterans and POWs at the entranceway of the Manchester VA Medical Center. The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday the table was sponsored by a veterans group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network.
The lawsuit filed in Concord by James Chamberlain against the center’s director, Alfred Montoya, says the Bible’s inclusion is in violation of the Constitution. The First Amendment stipulates “that the government may not establish any religion. Nor can the government give favoritism to one religious belief at the expense of others,” according to the suit.
Chamberlain, a devout Christian, said in the lawsuit the table should be a memorial to all who have served, regardless of their beliefs. The suit said the original POW/MIA table tradition was started by a group of Vietnam combat pilots and didn’t include a Bible as one of the items.
The medical center initially removed the Bible in January after another group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, objected, saying it got complaints from 14 patients who felt it violated the First Amendment. A variety of religions were represented among the 14.
But the Bible reappeared on the table in February. It had been removed “out of an abundance of caution,” Curt Cashour, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman, said in an emailed statement Tuesday. Afterward, the medical center received an outpouring of complaints from veterans and others, “many of whom dropped off Bibles at the facility” in protest, Cashour said.
After consulting with lawyers, the medical center put the Bible back on the table indefinitely, Cashour said. He called the table “a secular tribute to America’s POW/MIA community.”
He apologized to those were offended by the Bible’s “incorrect” removal.
But Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said it is the presence of the Bible that is offensive.
“It’s incredibly disrespectful, dishonorable, and most importantly, it’s illegal,” he said.
The crowdfunding campaign to raise money for three African American churches gutted by arson in Louisiana began a week ago, but donations surged after flames engulfed the roof of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris and the outcry provoked a conversation about the disparate reactions to the tragedies.
Nearly $1 billion had been pledged to the Notre Dame rebuilding effort within hours of Monday’s blaze. The massive attention focused on the French landmark prompted Megan Romer to take note and tweet: “My heart is broken over the loss of Notre Dame. The Catholic Church is also one of the world’s wealthiest entities. If you are going to donate money to rebuild a church this week, I implore you to make it the black churches in St. Landry Parish.”
GoFundMe spokeswoman Aja Shepherd confirmed in an email that giving to the destroyed Louisiana churches increased Tuesday after Romer’s tweet and a challenge from freelance journalist Yashar Ali to his nearly 400,000 Twitter followers.
Other online reminders of the black churches’ plight followed, including this Tuesday tweet from Hillary Clinton: “As we hold Paris in our hearts today, let’s also send some love to our neighbors in Louisiana.”
Donations that totaled about $300,000 nearly a week into the campaign surged to $1.5 million by Wednesday night. The money is to be distributed equally among the three century-old churches to help them recover from the fires intentionally set from March 26 to April 4. White suspect Holden Matthews, 21, has been charged with arson and hate crimes.
Among the calls for more giving to the black churches, there was concern that they were already being forgotten as flames leapt from the roof of Notre Dame.
“It’s terrible what happened to Notre Dame. … But, 3 black churches in LA were purposely burnt down b/c of hate. Let’s not forget to be even more outraged about that,” Twitter user Joe Boyd wrote.
Native American Terrell Johnson, a 19-year-old Columbia University student and member of the Assiniboine Tribe, wondered: “Why are we not as worried about these sites being hurt that are historic to our minority groups, rather than majority groups?”
“It shows how little we are valued. These black churches, the mosque, Native American sites, they are not as valued as Catholicism or Christianity in that aspect, and it’s frustrating,” Johnson said in a Wednesday interview.
But journalist Thomas Chatterton Williams, in a series of tweets, took issue with the notion that concern about Notre Dame could be boiled down to a matter of race.
“It’s a tragedy when black churches + mosques are bombed, burned or vandalized, but of course the world pays more attention to an 800-year-old architectural masterpiece in the heart of a city everyone visits! That’s not white supremacy, and nonwhites who love Paris aren’t dupes,” he wrote.
The Rev. Roderick Greer of St. John’s Cathedral, an Episcopal place of worship in Denver, acknowledges that Notre Dame has higher visibility as a cultural, artistic and religious landmark than the three rural church buildings in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish.
Still, in a Wednesday interview, he questioned whether white Americans would pay as much attention even if the fire happened at high-profile black churches, such as Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta or Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church.
“Even if Mother Emmanuel or Ebenezer or 16th Street Baptist Church went up in flames, do white Americans, in particular, have the same emotional and visceral connections that they have to Notre Dame, which is on another continent?” said Greer. “That’s such a telling commentary on the white American imagination that support for black churches lost to arson surged only in the wake of a historic European cathedral fire.”
The Rev. Mason Jack, an officer with the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, which includes the burned churches, said Wednesday he was grateful for the surge in donations. He acknowledged that the Notre Dame fire raised consciousness about the Louisiana fires but downplayed any concerns that black churches were being overshadowed or forgotten.
He said publicity surrounding all of the fires helped increase awareness of the need in Louisiana. “Maybe, for some, it was an awakening for them to bring healing and restoration,” he said.
Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this story.
At an Atlanta church service dedicated to youth Sunday, the presidential candidate compared leadership to a relay race in which each generation must ask themselves “what do we do during that period of time when we carry that baton.”
Then she added with a smile that for “the older leaders, it also becomes a question of let’s also know when to pass the baton.”
The 54-year-old senator — one of the younger contenders for the White House in 2020 — did not mention any other presidential hopeful or tie her remarks to the Democratic presidential scramble. Her spokeswoman said she only wanted to encourage the youth at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Her commentary to the congregation once led by Martin Luther King Jr. comes as former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, considers whether to join a field that already includes Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is 77. Both men have run for president before and fallen short.
‘Biden and Sanders are seen as strong contenders for the Democratic nomination, though other candidates and some voters have emphasized the need for a more youthful approach to try and beat President Donald Trump in the general election. Several other candidates in the race, including two governors, are also in their late sixties.
Harris noted Sunday that King was 26 when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycotts that pushed him to the forefront of the civil rights movement.
Later Sunday, Harris told a rally at Morehouse College in Atlanta that Attorney General William Barr should testify under oath on Capitol Hill, rather than just submit the written summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation.
The Justice Department said Sunday that Mueller’s team did not find evidence that Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.
Other highlights of Sunday campaigning:
Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand assailed President Donald Trump as a coward who is “tearing apart the moral fabric of the vulnerable,” as she officially started her campaign for president.
The senator spoke in New York Sunday, feet away from one of Trump’s signature properties, the Trump International Hotel and Tower.
She said that instead of building walls as Trump wants to do along the U.S.-Mexico border, Americans build bridges, community and hope.
Gillibrand also called for full release of Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation. Attorney General William Barr released a summary Sunday afternoon, but Democrats want to see the full details.
Gillibrand is trying to position herself in the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination. While some hopefuls have shied away from mentioning Trump, Gillibrand has not hesitated to do so.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Sunday the National Rifle Association is holding “Congress hostage” when it comes to stemming gun violence.
The Massachusetts senator and Democratic presidential candidate tells a campaign rally that if seven children were dying from a mysterious virus, “we’d pull out all the stops till we figured out what was wrong.” But in terms of gun violence, she said the NRA “keeps calling the shots in Washington.”
Warren finished a two-day campaign trip to New Hampshire with an event at a middle school in Conway Sunday afternoon.
Warren focused much of her speech on her approach to economics, but paid special attention to unions Sunday. She said more power needs to be put back in the hands of workers.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told voters in Las Vegas Sunday that President Donald Trump bears blame for the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border but responsibility lies with everyone in the country to fix the situation.
O’Rourke spoke Sunday to more than 200 people packed into and snaking around a taco shop on the city’s north end. He said immigrant families are leaving their home countries and journeying on foot because they have no other choice.
The former Texas congressman said desperate families were broken up in the U.S. when they were at their most vulnerable and desperate moments, and what happened to them “is on every single one of us.”
In this Feb. 9, 2019 photo, Brig. Gen. Milford H. Beagle, Jr. commanding general of Fort Jackson, speaks to the president of the Sgt. Isaac Woodard Historical Marker Association following the dedication ceremony in Batesburg-Leesville, S.C. Beagle, Jr. who now leads the Army’s Fort Jackson in South Carolina is descended from a soldier who served there in a segregated military more than a century ago. (AP Photo/Christina Myers)
Pvt. Walter Beagles arrived at Camp Jackson, South Carolina, in 1918, an African American draftee in a segregated Army that relegated black soldiers to labor battalions out of a prejudiced notion that they couldn’t fight.
More than 100 years later, his great-grandson now serves as the base’s 51st commanding general.
Brig. Gen. Milford Beagle, Jr., a combat veteran who took command last June, admits that it gets to him, knowing he’s serving where his ancestor served but under vastly different circumstances.
“It does become pretty surreal to know that the gates my great-grandfather came through are the same gates I come through,” Beagle said. “You always reflect back to you’re standing on somebody’s shoulders. Somebody put that stair in place so you can move one more rung up.”
Beagle hails from the same town where his great-grandfather came from: Enoree, South Carolina. The family dropped the “s” from the end of its name during his grandfather’s lifetime.
He says he felt compelled to enter the infantry as a young man at least partly because African Americans once were largely shunted aside — considered inferior and unsuited to combat.
“That was one thing I did reflect on. Somebody at some point in time said your particular race can’t do that,” Beagle said. “At some point our ancestors fought so we could be in those front-line units and those combat units.”
Beagle has served in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, among his many postings.
His great-grandfather, who died in 1985 at the age of 94, didn’t talk much about his Army service, Beagle said. But the general enlisted the help of Fort Jackson Basic Combat Training Museum director and curator Henry Howe who found more details about Pvt. Beagles’ military service during the Great War.
“Gen. Beagle gave me a copy of his draft card. He did give me a roster of Fort Jackson, but we were able to find out a little bit more information, specifically the days he came in and the units he was with and that he deployed to … France in late 1918,” Howe said.
At Camp Jackson, Beagles would have learned fundamental drills and how to behave as a soldier with the 156th Depot Brigade, but he didn’t get much training in combat arms. He moved into the 346th Labor Battalion where his jobs included loading and unloading ships, building roads and digging ditches — labor intensive work.
“The majority of the African Americans were pushed off into the support units,” Howe said. “Oftentimes, we in the military look at the combat arms as the glory, but it’s overwhelmingly the support people that give the opportunity for victories.”
The Army that Pvt. Beagles served in was highly segregated, as was the wider society, said American studies professor Andrew Myers at University of South Carolina Upstate.
“As Jim Crow became more instituted in the civilian society, you saw the same thing kind of take over the military,” he said.
Racial tensions were high in some towns surrounding U.S. military camps, leading sometimes to violence.
In Houston, Texas, 1917 a clash between police officers and soldiers led to court martials and the execution of 19 African American soldiers.
“The execution … of the colored soldiers implicated in the Houston riot was one of the dark spots on the escutcheon of the Army, but it did not dampen the ardor of the colored men who went to the front for the Stars and Stripes,” Emmett J. Scott noted in his book, “The American Negro in the World War.” Scott was Booker T. Washington’s secretary before becoming a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of War, serving as a liaison between black soldiers and the War Department.
In October 1918, Beagles was deployed to France. The Armistice ending the fighting was signed the following month.
Following the war, Beagles was honorably discharged in January 1919 and returned to his farm. While many cities and towns, including Columbia, South Carolina, hosted parades welcoming back their soldiers, black veterans did not typically get a hero’s welcome.
“Especially in the South as they were discharged and went back to their homes, they encountered a lot of conflict with various people,” Myers said. Some fell victim to whites who objected to seeing black men in U.S. military uniforms. In 1920, the NAACP noted that nine African American retired soldiers had been lynched in 1919.
However, the mistreatment of African American soldiers during World War I was not a story Gen. Beagle heard from his great-grandfather. Instead, he spoke of hard work, courage, strength and integrity — values that his great-grandson says are woven into his family’s history.
“I remember flexing for Great-Grandpa,” Beagle said with a smile on his face. “He was just a great person, down to earth, hard working.” You could tell that by his hands, Beagle said.
Beagle said his great-grandfather and others contributed significantly to this country, without knowing what their contributions would mean to the future of the military — now a place where people of different races work side by side with the same mission, to protect their nation.
If given one more day with his great-grandfather, Beagle said he would show him today’s diverse soldiers in formation during a graduation ceremony.
“I would turn to him and say hey, was it worth it,” Beagle said. “And I’m pretty sure I’d get a big smile back and he’d say it was absolutely worth it.”
The United Methodist Church teetered on the brink of breakup Monday after more than half the delegates at an international conference voted to maintain bans on same-sex weddings and ordination of gay clergy.
Their favored plan, if formally approved, could drive supporters of LGBT inclusion to leave America’s second-largest Protestant denomination.
A final vote on rival plans for the church’s future won’t come until Tuesday’s closing session, and the outcome remains uncertain. But the preliminary vote Monday showed that the Traditional Plan, which calls for keeping the LGBT bans and enforcing them more strictly, had the support of 56 percent of the more than 800 delegates attending the three-day conference in St. Louis.
The primary alternative proposal, called the One Church Plan, was rebuffed in a separate preliminary vote, getting only 47 percent support. Backed by a majority of the church’s Council of Bishops in hopes of avoiding a schism, it would leave decisions about same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy up to regional bodies and would remove language from the church’s law book asserting that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Monday’s voting did not kill the One Church Plan but makes its prospects on Tuesday far more difficult.
As evidence of the deep divisions within the faith, delegates Monday approved plans that would allow disaffected churches to leave the denomination while keeping their property.
“This is really painful,” said David Watson, a dean and professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, who was at the gathering. “Our disagreement has pitted friend against friend, which no one wanted.”
Formed in a merger in 1968, the United Methodist Church claims about 12.6 million members worldwide, including nearly 7 million in the U.S. While other mainline Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches, have embraced the two gay-friendly practices, the Methodist church still officially bans them, even though acts of defiance by pro-LGBT clergy have multiplied and talk of a possible breakup has intensified.
The strong showing for the Traditional Plan reflects the fact that the UMC, unlike other mainstream Protestant churches in the U.S., is a global denomination. About 43 percent of the delegates in St. Louis are from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly support the LGBT bans.
Althea Spencer Miller, 63, assistant professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School in New Jersey, and a pastor, poses for picture Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, at a national Methodist conference in St. Louis. Miller, who identifies as lesbian, said the United Methodist Church has an opportunity to show that “God’s kingdom is a kingdom of such diversity” by opening the door to same-sex marriage and LGBT ministers. The potentially divisive vote will be Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jim Salter)
“We Africans are not children in need of Western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics,” the Rev. Jerry Kulah, dean at a Methodist theology school in Liberia, said in a speech over the weekend. “We stand with the global church, not a culturally liberal church elite in the U.S.”
The Africans have some strong allies among U.S. conservatives, including the Rev. John Miles II, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas, who opposes same-sex marriage and gays in the pulpit.
“I have a very difficult time even though I have gays in my family and in my church,” he said. “I know it grieves them and it grieves me to grieve them. But it’s just what we believe is the truth.”
In recent years, the church’s enforcement of its LGBT bans has been inconsistent. Some clergy members have conducted same-sex marriages or come out as gay from the pulpit. In some cases, the church has filed charges against clergy who violated the bans, yet the denomination’s Judicial Council has ruled against the imposition of mandatory penalties, which typically called for an unpaid suspension of at least one year.
The Traditional Plan would require stricter and more consistent enforcement.
Among the outspoken supporters of the more permissive One Church Plan was the Rev. Adam Hamilton, a pastor in Leawood, Kansas, who said it offered a way for Methodists “to live together — conservatives, centrists and progressives — despite our differences.”
For LGBT Methodists, it is a time of anxiety.
“For me it’s about who’s in God’s love, and nobody’s left out of that,” said Lois McCullen Parr, 60, a church elder from Albion, Michigan, who identifies as bisexual and queer. “The Gospel I understand said Jesus is always widening the circle, expanding the circle, so that everyone’s included.”