Update: Houston Veterans and Families Stand Up For God At National Cemetery
Hundreds of demonstrators waving flags and praying converged on Houston National Cemetery on Independence Day to protest reports of religious censorship of burial services and public events at the cemetery.
The Houston Area Pastor Council says the protest was a show of support for a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Director of the Houston National Cemetery.
The lawsuit was filed by several veterans' organizations, and it claims the VA and Cemetery Director Arleen Ocasio are violating their constitutional right to religious expression by not allowing people to pray in Jesus's name and forbidding the word "God" and "God bless you" at veterans' funerals.
"The director of this cemetery...has engaged in systematic oppression of religious speech on this ground," said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council.
Welch said the strong turnout shows veterans' groups and volunteers who assist with burials at the cemetery that they're not alone. "They're not going to fight this battle by themselves."
Several Houston area congressmen and state lawmakers say the cemetery director should be fired. One Vietnam veteran said he has a lot of friends buried at the National Cemetery, and "To have the director of this facility try to censor religious speech...is a slap in the face to not only every American who believes in God, but it's a slap in the face to every veteran who fought for our freedom."
A spokesman for the VA says the names of God and Jesus are allowed and freely spoken during interments at national cemeteries across the country.
In a statement published online, Steve Muro, VA Under-Secretary for Memorial Affairs, said "families are free to choose and use the burial rites and rituals that are meaningful or sacred to them. ... Families are equally free to have a service without religious references."
Two questions come to mind: If that is VA policy, why is the Houston National Cemetery director not following it? And why does the VA apparently allow her to ignore it?