Three national veterans groups have filed a 26-page complaint in federal court that officials at the Houston National Cemetery have defied the court’s order to quit censoring prayer and banning the words “God” and “Jesus” from funeral services.
Despite a Memorial Day injunction by federal judge Lynn Hughes, local veterans say the Department of Veterans Affairs has continued to censor their prayers, eulogies and traditional ceremonies in violation of their First Amendment guarantees that the government will not impede their free exercise of religion or their freedom of speech.
The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Memorial Ladies cited “religious hostility” at the cemetery, charging that the cemetery’s director, Arleen Ocasio, bans religious phrases and requires prayers to be submitted in advance for her approval. She has also turned the cemetery chapel into a meeting room, they said.
“We were told we could no longer say “God bless you” and “God bless your family,” said Marilyn Koepp, a volunteer with the National Memorial Ladies. “How did I feel? I probably shouldn’t say how I felt because it was absolutely apalling that this woman would come aboard and tell us we can not say ‘God bless you.’ What is happening to our country?”