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THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2007
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EDITORIAL

Voluntary faith aspect in VA programs sensible

Ties between church and state should always be viewed with suspicion, but a court decision permitting the Department of Veterans Affairs to incorporate religion in the treatment of those patients who request it is a good one.

At issue was a VA practice of asking questions about patients' faith in a background questionnaire, a drug and alcohol program that incorporates religion, and the use of chaplains for certain types of patient care.

None of the religious programs is mandatory. Patients have equivalent treatment options that do not involve religion.

Religious faith is an important part of healing, especially when the ailment has a mental component. Religion does not work for everyone, but depriving such an important avenue to recovery for those who need it is irresponsible.

The only brightline rule for maintaining a separation between state programs and religion would be an absolute ban. That is not proof that a ban is the best approach; rather, it is an acknowledgement that the issue is too complex for the convenience of a brightline rule.

We have a responsibility to our veterans to maximize their chance of good health. We should not use extreme interpretations of the First Amendment's religious establishment clause as an excuse to fail in that responsibility.

Our forefathers correctly identified the risks associated with religion and government sharing the same bed. Vigilance is appropriate in making sure that government does not co-opt religion or vice versa.

Depriving those veterans who depend on their religious faith for a return to health is a simple solution to the separation of church and state issue but, as with many simple solutions, it is a poor one.

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