Lawsuit Questions VA’s “Voluntary” Spiritual Assessment

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


A federal judge has ruled that the Madison, Wisconsin Department of Veterans’ Affairs does not violate the separation of church and state by its use of religion in treatment. Last week, U.S District Judge John Shabaz dismissed a suit brought by the Madison chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, saying that the use of religion is helpful in the healing process and does not violate the Constitution when it is voluntary.

The problem, according to the Foundation, is that religion is hardly presented as “voluntary” at the Madison VA Hospital. Annie Laurie Gaylor, Foundation president, said: “I think the public will be startled to learn that if you’re a VA patient and you want a referral to an eye doctor, you have to have a spiritual assessment.”

These assessments, which VA officials say help them determine patients’ needs, include questions about church attendance and how important religion is in patients’ lives. Another concern was the incorporation of religion into the VA drug and alcohol treatment program (something that occurs whenever Twelve Step programs are used, despite ongoing protests that a “higher power” has nothing to do with God), and the integration of chaplain services into patient care.

The Madison Freedom From Religion Foundation is appealing Judge Shabaz’s ruling.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate