CONCORD, N.H. (AP) A judge on Wednesday granted the dismissal of a lawsuit over a Bible displayed on a table at a New Hampshire veterans hospital after the plaintiffs’ lawyer proposed a separate display.
Two U.S. Air Force veterans filed the lawsuit in federal court in 2019 against the Manchester VA Medical Center director, saying the Bible’s inclusion on a “missing man” table near the entrance honoring fallen or missing veterans and prisoners of war is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
The table, usually set up near military dining facilities, is set for one person and features a white tablecloth, single rose, a lit candle and more. In some displays, a Bible is also on the table.
The lawsuit said the table should be a memorial to all who have served. The veterans had suggested replacing the Bible with a Book of Faith containing the writings and prayers from seven religious groups. Government lawyers argued the lawsuit should be dismissed, saying some of the allegations were vague and undefined, and that the lead plaintiff acknowledged he wasn’t offended by the display. The matter went to mediation.
“One of the focuses was us putting up our own table,” attorney Lawrence Vogelman, who represents the veterans, said at a hearing in requesting the dismissal. He said the VA has a specific procedure for requesting a table and would negotiate the details with the hospital’s lawyers in an effort to avoid any more litigation.
“I think that we’re close enough, or hopefully we are, and in the event it doesn’t work out, then you’ll see us again, but I am very optimistic,” Vogelman said to the judge.
An attorney representing the hospital director did not object to the voluntary dismissal request and agreed it would be fine for the veterans to use the hospital’s procedure.
U.S. District Judge Paul Barbadoro approved of the idea and noted that it doesn’t involve any necessary change to the current missing man table.
Barbadoro told Vogelman that from the beginning, “I’ve had some confusion about exactly how to conceptualize your claim.” He said he thought it would be better poised for resolution if it were a “restricted or limited public forum case, rather than a government speech case.”
The Bible at the hospital was carried by a prisoner of war in World War II. It was sponsored by a veterans group called the Northeast POW/MIA Network, which had intervened in the lawsuit and did not object to the plaintiffs’ actions Wednesday.
The new, proposed table would be sponsored by another group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Mikey Weinstein, group president, said the table would have the American flag draped on it and contain a published, generic Book of Faith. A granite stone would display the opening words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
“We want them to honor them all,” he said.
This article originally appeared here.