Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Manchester VA Bible Challenge

Sep 25, 2019

Larry Vogelman (center) speaks to the press on the steps of the Federal Courthouse in Concord, N.H. on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. His client, James Chamberlain, stands in the background.
Credit Peter Biello / NHPR

A federal judge Wednesday denied "without prejudice" a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a veteran challenging the presence of a Bible on a display table in the lobby of the Manchester VA Medical Center.

The VA sought to dismiss the case, arguing the man who filed the complaint, James Chamberlain, is Christian and therefore could not be personally injured by the presence of the Bible.

Chamberlain's attorney, Larry Vogelman, disagrees.

"Everytime he's forced to go by it, he thinks of those he served with who weren't Christian, and he thinks of those who gave their ultimate sacrifice of their lives to defend our country and our Constitution, and not all of them were Christian, and that hurts him to the quick," says Vogelman.

Vogelman says he may seek additional plaintiffs who are not Christian, which he believes would strengthen his case.

Outside the courthouse, Vogelman argued that the Bible's presence in the lobby of the Manchester VA is harmful not only to Chamberlain, but to people of all faiths, because it symbolizes the government's endorsement of one religion over others.

But Mike Berry with First Liberty Institute disagrees. He's an intervener in the case, on behalf of the Northeast POW/MIA Network. He says other groups are free to request displays at the VA featuring whatever they choose, "but what they shouldn't be doing is trying to use the court system as a bullying tool to force the VA to injure our client's free speech rights."

The VA's lawyers declined to comment, and the Manchester VA declined to make medical center director Al Montoya, who is named as a defendant, available for an interview.

The judge says deciding whether Chamberlain has standing to sue requires "analysis that is complex and uncertain," adding that the question of standing "will take a few weeks to resolve."