They say that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs appears to be banning Jesus, God Bless You, and prayer at funeral ceremonies at the Houston National Cemetery. VA officials are restricting and even censoring prayers and religious speech there, which has local chapters of veterans groups, like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the VFW, mad enough to file a lawsuit. The American Legion and National Memorial Ladies are also charging that the Veteran Affairs director, Arleen Ocasio, at the Houston National Cemetery, as well as other federal government officials, have been exhibiting religious censorship since just before this past Memorial Day.
Director Ocasio and other VA officials at the cemetery are accused of telling the VFW District 4 and the American Legion Post 586 to remove prayers from burial rituals. Ocasio also instructed the National Memorial Ladies that they could no longer use the phrase ″God Bless″ on their condolence cards, nor say any religious message to veterans families. The director also closed down the cemetery chapel to prevent its use by grieving families. The chapel is currently being used by cemetery staff for personnel meetings and for storage.
The Houston National Cemetery is the second largest veterans cemetery in the country. Congressman Ted Poe who represents the 2nd Congressional District in Texas has sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs demanding that Director Arleen Ocasio be dismissed and that the anti-religious policies be stopped. One has to wonder where she comes off denying those attending military funerals for finding comfort and solace in religion? Not to mention violating the First Amendment, restricting freedom of speech and freedom of religion to be practiced at military funerals.
The controversy began on May 26, 2011 when Pastor Scott Rainey, a respected member of the clergy who often delivers invocations at the Texas State House of Representatives and the Harris County Commissioners Court, was denied permission to give a prayer at the Houston National Cemetery′s Memorial Day Ceremony. Something which he has done for the past two years. Director Arleen Ocasio requested that Pastor Rainey submit the text of his prayer before the ceremony for review. She then demanded that he edit his prayer, removing the name of Jesus Christ from it, citing that the prayer should be more ″inclusive″.
The Liberty Institute got involved and filed a lawsuit in the federal courts. U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes ruled in favor of Pastor Rainey and Jesus, saying in her decision, ″The government cannot gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, as it cannot do it in some bureaucrat′s notion of cultural homogeneity.″ Judge Hughes adds, ″The right to freedom of expression ranges from the dignity of Abraham Lincoln;s speeches to Charlie Sheen′s rants.″
Hopefully, enough outrage will reach the eyes and ears of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and they will fire Arleen Ocasio as Director of the Houston National Cemetery. Her preventing Pastor Scott Rainey from invoking Jesus Christ in a prayer, as well as other forms of censorship such as striking God Bless You from condolence cards is ridiculous. Kudos to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, the National Memorial Ladies and the Liberty Institute for taking the fight against the VA and Ms. Ocasio. Our veterans deserve far better than this sort of treatment, as do the families of our fallen heroes. Censoring religion at military funerals is worse than a crime, it is an abomination. Or should I say an Obama-nation?