Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Houston Military Cemetery Charged With Barring Religious Speech At Funerals

As previously reported, just before Memorial Day, a Texas federal district court issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Department of Veterans Affairs from regulating the content of the invocation and benediction that were to be delivered at a Memorial Day ceremony in Houston's National Cemetery. A month after that order was issued, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint expanding their allegations. The new charges have been widely reported on the Internet after a June 28 press release from Liberty Institute was headlined: "VA Bans Mention of God at Funerals for Vets!".  Click2Houston reported that yesterday yesterday 200 protesters showed up at the cemetery chanting "God bless America", accusing cemetery director Arleen Ocasio of banning the names of God and Jesus from funeral services.

The amended complaint (full text) in Rainey v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (SD TX, filed 6/27/2011), focuses on four separate allegations: (1) VFW and American Legion burial rituals which can be requested by families can no longer include a prayer unless the family first submits the prayer in writing for approval by the cemetery director; (2) A private funeral home was told that it could not inform military families of their option to have the VFW chaplain deliver a prayer by submitting the prayer first for approval; (3) The National Memorial Ladies were told that condolence cards they hand out to families at military funerals cannot contain a religious message, nor should a religious message be spoken to the family when delivering the card; and (4) The cemetery chapel has been closed and turned into a meeting facility. Here are the cemetery's written guidelines for military funerals.