Wire Service: RNS
A federal judge has upheld aspects of the Department of Veterans Affairs' chaplaincy program, saying its use of "spiritual assessments" of patients is constitutional.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued VA officials last April, charging that they violated the First Amendment with an expansion of spiritual care services to outpatient veterans and a requirement that veterans be assessed to determine if a spiritual dimension of their health care is needed. Assessments can include questions about how often patients attend a house of worship and whether they would like to speak with a chaplain.
"All aspects of VA's chaplaincy program being challenged by plaintiffs are constitutionally permissible under the First Amendment because they do not have the principal or primary effect of advancing religion," wrote U.S. District Judge John C. Shabaz of the U.S. District Court in Madison, Wis., in a Monday (Jan. 8) ruling.
Shabaz said the spiritual assessments are voluntary because administrators will halt them if patients state they are not interested in being assessed in that way.
"Voluntariness lies at the heart of each and every aspect of VA's chaplaincy program being challenged," he wrote.