Christmas trees and carols ban in Virginia veterans' hospital sparks uproar; pastor says he can't be bullied

Pastor John Sines Jr. in concert at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee in August 2011.(Wikipedia)

The Christmas holiday in Salem, Virginia will be undergoing a drastic change this year after the federal government issued an order stating that Christmas trees and the singing of religious Christmas carols are no longer allowed in public places.

The issue all started when workers from the Salem Veterans Affairs Medical Center received an e-mail that said: "Trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year."

Employees were also told that "public areas may only be decorated in a manner that is celebratory of the winter season," and "displays must not promote any religion," according to Fox News.

Even "holiday" music must be filtered out, and when the words "Christ" and "Christmas" are used, then it should not be played. "Music travels and should be secular (non-religious) and appropriate to the work environment," the e-mail stated.

"They told me I could sing 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' but I couldn't sing about Christ," said Pastor John Sines, Jr. of Rock Pike Baptist Church in Forest, Virginia. "I couldn't sing about anything that had the word Christmas in it. I could sing what they referred to as 'holiday' songs."

Sines said he was flustered by all the rules, but all he wanted to do was entertain veterans in the hospital. "My agenda wasn't so I could push Jesus on the veterans," he said. "I just wanted to honour the veterans and to say thank you."

Because of this, he told the VA Hospital that he will not be abiding by their rules. "I let those folks know I wasn't going to be bullied into their way of thinking," he said. "We're rednecks. We don't have no problem standing our ground."

It was not only Sines who objected to the new rules. Even VA employees, the veterans themselves, and the local townspeople were outraged, and so they got into a compromise.

Sines was re-invited to perform and Christmas trees will once again be allowed in public spaces, but under one condition—that other faiths be represented as well, such as "the Jewish Menorah, or Hanukkah Lamp, and the Kwanzaa Mkeka (decorative mat) or Kinara (candleholder)."

"This compromise allows for the Salem VAMC to be in full compliance with Federal mandates that prohibit US government facilities, including the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, from 'favouring one religion over another' while providing the diversity and flexibility for employees and Veterans to celebrate the holidays according to their individual faith structure," the VA stated.