Friday, September 23, 2011

Proposed Settlement Filed In Houston Veterans' Cemetery Case

Yesterday, a joint motion for entry of a consent decree (full text of motion) was filed in Rainey v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, (SD TX, filed 9/22/2011).  The lawsuit claimed that VA cemetery rules were applied to interfere with prayer and religious expression at commitment ceremonies in Houston's National Cemetery.  (See prior posting.) Under the proposed consent decree (full text), reached after mediation by a former Texas Supreme Court justice, the government agreed to 50 stipulations that facilitate the VFW, the Memorial Ladies and the American Legion's providing honor guard ceremonies and condolence cards, including religious expressions, unless the family objects.  To accomplish this, among other things, the VFW and Memorial Ladies are to be decertified as VA "without compensation" employees, and they will operate as private citizens. The decree also assures that these groups can work with funeral homes in offering to participate in committal services.

One of the stipulations provides that language in a National Cemetery Administration directive requiring invocations and benedictions to be "inclusive" and "nonderogatory" will be replaced with language that will enable NCA to preserve the dignity and solemnity of national cemeteries and enforce VA safety and security regulations. The VA will also pay $215,000 in attorneys' fees to plaintiffs. The proposed settlement must still be approved by the court. AP and the Houston Chronicle report on the settlement.