American Legion members fire off a final farewell

 

Three national veterans groups have complained that officials at the Houston National Cemetery have defied a federal judge’s order to quit censoring prayer and banning the words “God” and “Jesus” from funeral services.

Despite a Memorial Day court order, local veterans say the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to censor their prayers, eulogies and traditional ceremonies in violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee that the government cannot impede the free exercise of religion or Americans’ freedom of speech.

A Veterans of Foreign Wars bugler
VFW officials salute a fallen comrade

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Memorial Ladies all complain of “religious hostility” at the cemetery. Their 26-page complaint alleges that the cemetery’s director, Arleen Ocasio, bans religious phrases and requires prayers to be submitted in advance for her approval.

“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?”

American Legion veterans pay their respects

“It’s just unfair that somebody would ask us to take God out of our vocabulary,” Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston chapter of the  National Memorial Ladies, told the Houston Chronicle. “I could’ve kept my mouth shut and let things happen, but when it comes to standing up for your belief in God and giving comfort to the families, I don’t want to regret not saying anything. We all had to stand up for what we believe in.”

“We are private citizens in a private organization, and yet we are restricted,” said John Spahr of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, which provides ceremonial guards and ceremonies for about 60 funerals a week to honor veterans and console families.

Veterans present the Stars and Stripes to a grieving family

Nobleton Jones said he felt belittled when he was told he couldn’t use the word “God” in his recitation to a family as he handed them a bag of shell casings from a gun salute. He was told he can no longer say, “We ask that God grant you and your family grace, mercy and peace.”

“That has been censored,” said Jones.

Last month, a local pastor won his fight to end his prayer in “Jesus’ name” at the cemetery’s Memorial Day ceremony.

A judge granted a stay against the VA and the prayers were allowed to go on without government oversight or editing.  U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes told Ocasio and Department of Veterans Affairs officials that they could not block Houston pastor Scott Rainey from invoking the name of Jesus Christ in a Memorial Day prayer.

CLICK HERE to read about the Memorial Day ruling

Judge Hughes told CNN that the government cannot “gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat’s notion of cultural homogeneity.” He warned the VA that it had stepped too far, saying officials were essentially “decreeing how citizens honor their veterans.”

“But despite the judge’s warning, it seems the censorship has continued,” reports KTRH radio in Houston.

Cemetery Director Arlene Ocasio

Ocasio couldn’t be reached for comment.

Veterans allege the VA turned the cemetery’s chapel into a meeting room shortly after Ocasio came on board two years ago. They say they won’t back down from the fight.

“I am going to say ‘God bless you’ until I don’t know what would make me ever stop it,” said Koepp.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

President Barack Obama passed a key test Monday night in case anybody is worried that he is the Antichrist. Speaking at a campaign fundraiser at the House of Blues in Los Angeles, Obama was interrupted by a man identified as David Serrano who repeatedly yelled that “Jesus is God.” As Serrano was being physically removed by Secret Service agents, he accused Obama of being the Antichrist. That figure […]

Asked by Joy Behar onHeadline News whether America would vote for a “fat” candidate for President, controversial film-maker Michael Moore, who has never been accused of being too skinny, responded that most of America is fat and would probably identify with an overweight Commander-in-Chief. Historical note: There have been a number of chunky Presidents. William […]

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union have joined forces to create the pro-abortion “Mississippians for Healthy Families” with a goal of defeating a constitutional amendment limiting abortion in the Magnolia State. Christine Dhanagom of LifeSiteNews writes that “Yes on 26,” a coalition of anti-abortion groups, obtained a copy of the Mississippians for Healthy Families’ Statement of Organization […]

Are there irreconcilable differences between faith and science? Not in the opinion of prominent scientists who participated in a five-year study by Rice University. Researchers there found that only a minority of scientists questioned at major research universities say that religion and science required distinct boundaries. “When it comes to questions about the meaning of life, ways of understanding […]