(CNSNews.com) - In a Sept. 14 policy memorandum, Col. Chuck Callahan, chief of staff of Walter Reed National Medical Center, banned family members from bringing Bibles and other "religious items" when visiting wounded military personnel at the facility.
In a section entitled “Partners in Care Guidelines," describing what family members can bring to their wounded warrior in the hospital, the memo states: “No religious items (i.e., Bibles, reading materials and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.”
Only after the Family Research Council, a conservative pro-family advocate, got a copy of the memo and shared it with members of Congress, did the military issue a statement saying it was rewriting the policy because it was “incorrect.”
“Bibles and other religious materials have always been and will remain available for patient use at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center,” the statement said. “The visitation policy as written was incorrect and should have been more thoroughly reviewed before its release.”
“It has been rescinded,” the statement said. “We apologize for any confusion the policy may have caused.”
Charles Dasey, public affairs specialist with Walter Reed, told CNSNews.com that the policy was “intended to protect patients from visitors offering any sort of assistance that they didn’t want.”
The center’s new statement also says families are welcome to bring “religious materials” to the hospital and that no one of any faith will be denied admission to the hospital.
But this reversal came only after members of Congress, including Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), spoke out against the policy that had been exposed by the FRC. King delivered a speech against it on the House floor.
“Mr. Speaker, these military men and women who are recovering at Walter Reed in Bethesda have given their all for America," King said. “They've given their all for America, and they've defended and taken an oath to the Constitution, and here they are.”
“The people that come to visit them can't bring a religious artifact?” King said. “They can't bring a Bible? They can't use them in the services? A priest can't walk in with the Eucharist and offer communion to a patient who might be on their deathbed because it's prohibited in this memo."
King said the men and women in our military must be honored by protecting their First Amendment rights.
King and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) met with Navy officials and were told that the “memo was worded improperly” and a new memo will be drafted “to affirmatively assert that religious items and artifacts are welcome in the hospital, if they are welcomed by the patient.”
“The meeting with Vice Admiral Mateczun, Rear Admiral Stocks, and Senator Grassley was productive because the Walter Reed staff has agreed to write a new rule that affirms a visitor's ability to bring Bibles and other religious material when they visit," King said in a statement released after the meeting. “I have asked to look over the new rule before it's officially released and that they identify the individual who is responsible for writing this unconstitutional nonsense.”
“The Defense Department appears to have acted in good faith by retracting the original statement and releasing a statement of regret,” Grassley said in the joint statement. “I appreciate that officials are making efforts to get to the bottom of how this horrible language came about. I look forward to seeing the new policy and will reserve judgment until that time."
Dasey told CNSNews.com that he did not know when the new policy would be issued.
Meanwhile, the FRC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Navy to obtain communications records about the policy.
“We filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Walter Reed Military Medical Center in hope of understanding who authorized the Bible ban and why,” Tony Perkins, FRC president, said in a press release about the request. “Although the Center's spokesmen assure us the policy has been rescinded, we have yet to see the revised policy. Until then, we'll push forward with our investigation to see who or what is driving the religious purging.”