Thursday, July 21, 2011

Government Responds To Lawsuit Charging Censorship of Religion In Veterans' Funerals

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has now filed its answer (full text) to the complaint in a widely publicized case that charged the Houston (TX) National Cemetery with censoring veterans' committal service rites to eliminate the mention of God. (See prior posting.)  In responding for the first time to charges made by plaintiffs in Rainey v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (SD TX, answer filed 7/15/2011), the VA contended:
Houston National Cemetery employees have attempted to honor the particular religious preferences and requests by deceased Veterans’ families by offering them the option of reciting at the committal services any religious or non-religious text or recitation specifically requested by the families, and by not providing them with any religious or non-religious text or recitation when it is not desired and requested by the families.
The VA denied that the cemetery's director ever required that prayers the family wished to use in a private committal service be submitted to her in advance. However the VA did require that any request for a recitation in the cemetery service be initiated by the family. "Recitations are not to be presented to families by VA employees or registered VA honor guards to avoid imposing on them religious preferences that may not be desired."

Responding to claims regarding closure of the cemetery chapel, the VA said that it was closed for 10 months because of noise and fumes from a construction project.. A Bible, a cross and a star of David previously on display in the chapel were, after a complaint by attendees at a service, placed in storage to be used when requested by a family. The VA denied that the cemetery director stopped private funeral homes from informing families of the availability of a VFW chaplain. However, the VA claims that it moved to stop unauthorized solicitation by the VFW honor guard leader of payment from families for rendition of funeral honors. Monday's Houston Chronicle had additional coverage. [Thanks to Don Byrd for the lead.]