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Congressman: VA limited distribution of Christmas cards, gifts

US President Barack Obama (C-L) lights the National Christmas tree with his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C), his mother-in-law Marian Robinson (C-R) and wife Michelle Obama (R) during the 91st National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2013. The lighting of the tree is an annual tradition attended by the US President and the First Family. President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas tree, a 48-foot Balsam fir, in 1923. UPI/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool
US President Barack Obama (C-L) lights the National Christmas tree with his daughters Malia (L) and Sasha (C), his mother-in-law Marian Robinson (C-R) and wife Michelle Obama (R) during the 91st National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on the Ellipse south of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 6, 2013. The lighting of the tree is an annual tradition attended by the US President and the First Family. President Calvin Coolidge lit the first National Christmas tree, a 48-foot Balsam fir, in 1923. UPI/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A Republican congressman says some Veterans Administration hospitals may have violated some patients' civil rights by limiting Christmas activities.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., says some VA administrators restricted the delivery of Christmas-specific cards, singing of Christian carols and the distribution of gifts wrapped in Christmas paper, Military Times reported.

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In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki Friday, Miller said the actions may have violated patients' rights to celebrate both a government-approved holiday and their own religious traditions.

Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., sent a similar letter to Shinseki. Both asked Shinseki to investigate the incidents.

In his letter, Miller said President Obama lit the national Christmas tree using "well-chosen" remarks that did not proselytize or impose religious views.

The actions by the VA administrators "clearly ignored longstanding federal government traditions, basic commonsense and possibly a 2011 federal consent decree that ordered VA not to ban religious speech," Miller said.

A 2011 ruling by a federal judge prohibited officials at a VA cemetery in Houston from "editing, controlling or excising" speeches at the cemetery.

A VA spokesman said the department accepts religious cards and Christmas carols "for our patients who celebrate Christmas, as we do for veterans who celebrate religious holidays of all faiths."

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