Legion supports religious charge against VA

Featured in General News
Legion supports religious charge against VA

On June 28, Liberty Institute in Dallas filed court papers alleging that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the director of the Houston National Cemetery, Arleen Ocasio, are engaging in "religious viewpoint discrimination" in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The American Legion will support the case as an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") as soon as possible.

It is claimed that on at least four separate occasions, government officials told Legion and VFW post burial teams in Houston that prayer and religious speech could no longer be included in burial rituals unless the family of the deceased submits a specific prayer or message in writing to Director Ocasio for her approval. One government official reportedly also told the VFW honor guard commander, junior vice commander and chaplain that use of the word "God" is forbidden in unapproved ceremonies.

"The hostile and discriminatory actions by the Veterans Affairs officials in Houston are outrageous, unconstitutional and must stop," said Jeff Mateer, general counsel of Liberty Institute. "Government officials who engage in religious discrimination against citizens are breaking the law. Sadly, this seems to be a pattern of behavior at the Houston VA National Cemetery."

Keith Ethridge, director of the VA's National Chaplain Center, responded: "VA values and respects every veteran and their family's right to a burial service that honors their faith tradition. VA employs nearly one thousand chaplains who, every year, preside over thousands of religious burial services representing veterans of all faiths in VA national cemeteries across the country.

"Prayer is a very personal and sacred moment. To honor veterans as they are laid to rest, VA chaplains always pray and preside over religious services according to the veteran's faith tradition and the family's wishes."

This past month, Federal District Judge Lynn N. Hughes granted a temporary restraining order stopping cemetery director Ocasio in her attempt to prevent Houston pastor Scott Rainey from praying in Jesus' name during a Memorial Day ceremony.

Judge Hughes ruled that such censorship and religious discrimination violate the free speech guarantees of the First Amendment.

"These veterans laid their lives on the line in order to protect freedom of religion for everyone," said Jimmie L. Foster, national commander of The American Legion. "It is ironic that upon their own death, the very government that sent them to war is attempting, at least in this instance, to abridge the veteran's freedom of religion. This is carrying political correctness way too far."

More in General News

 

jmitche

July 6, 2011 - 2:52pm

There is no need for a formal (i.e. expensive) investigation in order to terminate employment. The fact that the American Legion, the VFW and many families of fallen veterans have filed complaints is enough to terminate employment. The only need for investigation would be to determine what if any constitutional rights have been violated.

LINDA PERHAM

July 3, 2011 - 8:42am

I have never attended an American Legion funeral when the family has not been an intregal part of the process. Most ritual teams or volunteers of these organizations realize the grief the family is experiencing and only want to provide comfort, not controversy. They are there for support and to provide compassion for those we have lost. We honor these men and women that have served. It is so sad that we have to make this time of healing and closure become a complicated issue. Veterans of these organizations take great care to provide a service of reverance and honor. I can't believe that someone would ever find that final jesture offensive. I will pray for them!

colette51

July 2, 2011 - 10:14pm

This situation with Director Ocasio came to a head just before Memorial Day. The person who was going to lead the invocation at the Memorial Day Remembrance was told he could not use the words "Jesus Christ" or "God" in his text so as to not offend others. Go to the Houston Chronicle, June 28, 2011 to get the story. Or put Ocasio in your search engine. The Houston Cemetery Chapel has been closed the 2 years Ocasio has been director with the cross and Bible removed. To those who are offended (like bobajabob), the rest of us are trying to show our respect for your loss. We are NOT TRYING TO CONVERT you. By the way, 2/3 of the world worship the God of Abraham, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and possibly Hindus. The only difference is who each faith believes is the messiah.

MollyM1978

July 2, 2011 - 12:48pm

AMERICA is not a theocracy. Our constitution supports freedom of religion. IF anything, the actions of Keith Ethridge ENSURES RELIGIOUS FREEDOM. When you put a cemetery under ONE RELIGION, it violates the rights of those of other religious affiliations that are buried there. Any soldier fighting and dying for America has the right to have any kind of service he or she or their family wishes to have. And they may not WANT a Christian service. Having families choose which type of service they wish to have GUARANTEES OUR RIGHTS AS AMERICANS TO PRACTICE ANY RELIGION THAT WE CHOOSE and protects our country from becoming a theocracy. Something the Founding Fathers never intended. This type of "fight before thinking" mentality is what brought us the Tea Party, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Let's use a little common sense here before we start FIGHTING.

Goldrush

July 1, 2011 - 4:05pm

You can have what ever kind of service you want, or your love one request. If it offends you. Then go to Iraq, Iran, SA, Packyourstand north korea, china russia or any other country I am sure they will give you what you want!;)) and then some! But Seem to me if it offends you, Hey! Don't GO!! That is your right. It that simple. IF the Vet was your friend, then you should have know what he perferred,understanding he want a Christian service or not, and if he wasn't why are you there???

tobybulldog

July 1, 2011 - 2:55pm

It would seem that we have had enough problems with National Cemeteries from Arlington to Houston. Anything from where are they buried, to the type of service that are maintained. Chaplins told DONOT use Jesus Christ in a prayer service even though it maybe a Christian Service and Chaplin. Military personel of different persuasions can chose to not participate or if they are American Military at least respect the one being buried. My experience of a friend laid to rest at Fort Custer National Cemetery was very good. But not all are it seems. Maybe its time to take Washington out of this awesome responsibility with the managers we are seeing and their political ties. Each National Cemetery having its own three person Board elected on a non partisan basis taken from the ranks of active and nonactive US Military . One from each board on a rotating basis to National Board. This board serving as a nonpaying position with only expenses being reimbursed. NO DAMN GOVT BUREAUCRACY!

RayK

July 1, 2011 - 12:51am

Why are we continuing to try to rationally respond to this "bobjabob". He is apparently just a rabble-rouser who knows that by taunting, he can get his 15 minutes of fame. I suggest that if we just ignore these kind of people, they will crawl back into their hole.... There are enough people out there trying to tear up our traditions and our country, who have no respect for themselves or anyone else....

Scrubmaster

June 30, 2011 - 10:16pm

She should be fired and it looks like to me that the AL National Leadership is going to set by and do nothing but but watch. I ask my fellow Legion members to contact there Congressman and Senators to stop this nonsense.Its time we stand up for our first Amdt rights. If the the family doesn't want a religous service the can ask for one. They are in the small minority and its beliefs of bobajabob that are destroying our nation. If your a atheist fine its your right. But your hatred of religion does not trump the First Amd.

bobajabob

June 30, 2011 - 7:57pm

Yes, I was para-phrasing. But in repeating it verbatim you make my point-notice the word "no"." Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; " This means don't show up in an American Military Uniform observing religious rituals against the wishes of the family. It doesn't mean you are free to show up whether you like it or not. I guess this is at the root of the Westboro Baptist Church conundrum, while I respect the right of those BBbrained Bozos to show up and protest at funerals of service members I also respect the right of my BIA to show up and out-number and out-size them to the back of the crowd. I am really just a history nut and it ticks me off seeing the perversion of the historical record to suit political ambitions. Jefferson was AGAINST organized religion and AGAINST a standing army, he was FOR a 100% Estate Tax, he was FOR a Constitutional prohibition of Corporations and Monopolies. we won't get into slavery

boucains

June 30, 2011 - 6:06pm

In the context of not being able to refer to God and other reported restrictions, I became curious about how to ban "religion" from anything, including burial ceremonies. www . adherents. com is an incredible resource for those interested in statistics on the over 4200 religions, sects, etc. that they have cataloged. After seeing that, I can't imagine trying to restrict reference to religion in the name of religious freedom OR freedom from religion. You wouldn’t be able to talk.

davidf

June 30, 2011 - 4:29pm

Our honor Guard has performed over 1300 funeral rites for our veterans, and have not had one complaint. The families wishes are what matters not the ranting of VA Director who should be helping the family not hindering them. Houston you have a problem!!

bobajabob

June 30, 2011 - 4:19pm

From reading this article I'm not quite sure I see what the problem is. This strikes me as the same thing as the Mormons baptizing me and my family after we're dead. Imagine you are a Jewish or Muslim family and all of a sudden you find out some Bible Thumper is exhorting the Baby Jeeezus to come take your child's soul off to Heaven or Hoboken-your being a bit upset is perfectly acceptable. You keep your faith out of my life and I won't be holding any observances to Pan in the midst of YOUR departure. We keep mistaking just trying to get respect our own religion as "Persecution" of Christians. How would you feel if I showed up at your kids service wearing the full on Satan Worship Costume and praying to Baal? The First Amendment promises us freedom FROM religion, not just the right to be a Christian. Why do I get the feeling there is some persecution of Islam at the root of this dispute. We don't get to pick which parts of the Constitution we Protect-we swore to protect it ALL!

boucains

June 30, 2011 - 5:58pm

bobajabob, I am curious about some of the statements you make. If you had the time to clarify, I would be interested in your thoughts. If you are not a Mormon and do not believe that baptism for the dead does anything, then why would you be concerned about it after you and your family are all dead? You mention Pan, Satan and Baal as elements of observance and prayer but claim freedom FROM religion. Pan, Satan and Baal are all parts of officially recognized religious philosophies by the IRS - which is odd since the government is prohibited from "respecting the establishment of religion". You state that "The First Amendment promises us freedom FROM religion". Which document with this amendment are you referring to? It seems to be in the context of the US Constitution, but that First Amendment Begins "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" so it cannot be the same. TIA 4 UR reply (no space left)

bobajabob

June 30, 2011 - 7:41pm

OK, let's assume for a moment you are a Mormon and I come along and take some earth and grass and such from your Papa's grave and hold a Santa Ria Ritual and send his soul to do some dirty work on the Other side for me. While you won't have much luck getting me convicted or anything you are going to feel somewhat violated. Still, whatever your beliefs as long as you keep them to yourself I have no problem. However, when you begin basing Government on superstition and myth we have a problem, whether you are talking about mythology created by some American nut-job con man in the 1800's or by Bronze Age sheep herders in Mesopotamia. Also, I'm assuming you're referring to IRS tax-exemptions. I am opposed to any tax exemptions for any religion. The Catholic Church is the largest un-indicted RICO cartel in the world but by no means the only one. The Democratic and Republican Party qualify under RICO as well, in my opinion. Put me in charge of a Grand Jury for one month and we'll have F U N

dzobels

July 5, 2011 - 4:06pm

I've looked over your arguments and there are enough straw men to raise the fire hazard level. Your examples are so unreasonably unlikely as to bring a chuckle to my throat, were it not for the serious nature of the discussion. Perhaps you, being a "history buff" should read the Federalist Papers, which make the case for the new Constitution by some of its main authors - most of your arguments are squashed flat therein. There is not and never has been "freedom FROM religion" except by court decree purporting to interpret the constitution. I don't wish to savage the cemetary director, whom I assume is more prey to the insidious government bureaucratic fear of the ACLU than to her own atheism, but your arguments and statements are too hard for me to resist. By allowing the normal socio/religious practices of veterans groups for ceremonies, the VA (government - congress, if you will) is not "making a law" respecting the establishment of a religion, by any stretch of reason.

aimew

June 30, 2011 - 5:23pm

bobajabob: I don't know how you could miss the problem but in essence, it is this: When a VFW and/or American Legion (or any active duty Military) detachment goes to a veteran's service, they ask the family if they'd like for them to perform their service (ritual, if you will). They also ask what denomination they'd like the service performed for. We have Muslim as well as Jewish and Christian, as well as a couple of other major religious services and even a generic one that just acknowledges a Creator. If the family doesn't want any of that, we simply stay (or go as the family wishes) and silently pay our respects to our fallen comrade. It is the family's wishes and desired that direct what happens or doesn't happen. Now the problem is that this out of control Director has added a level of grief to the families and friends of the deceased by denying them all that unless they fill out forms requesting what was normal until now. OK? Does that clarify things for you?

bobajabob

June 30, 2011 - 7:23pm

by asking them to check a box or even Gawd forbid, WRITE A STATEMENT specifying a choice, what more do they want from us....Come on now, he is covering his ass and I hope preventing the crap that went down at BOTH of my brother's services as I explained below. They could tell me "oops sorry bout that, tough luck", AS THEY DID, and we have no further recourse. On the other hand, had the director acted in violation of a written request I could have gotten more than the half assed non-apology my mother and I received. This is just more of the "everybody's picking on me" whining we keep hearing from "Christians" whenever anybody of a different faith tries to get equal respect. I am still confused as to what the problem is here-I think if anything he has improved the situation.

the spook

June 30, 2011 - 4:17pm

I have personally served as both Honor Guard and Rifle Squad for many hundreds of my fellow veterans who have passed since I have retired from the USAF and my joining the American Legion. If the prayers offfered by the Legion Chaplain were in some way offensive it has never been brought to our attention. As a matter of fact, our services are in so much demand we are at times unable to keep up with the number of services per day. We do this in conjunction with the US Army National Guard, who have provided a superb and professional casket detail for our ceremonies. If the use of the prayer were an issue we would have been told. It would not be a problem if the family did not want a prayer read, or said, but that has not been the case. The VA Director has no right making policy where there has not been a formal request for a change. I do not believe one has been made, as the American Legion would have been made aware of it at the National level and it would have been being handled.

analyticalanimal

June 30, 2011 - 3:31pm

It seems things are only offensive when it bothers someone who has no right to be involved in the first place. The family and the veteran should have the final say in how a funeral should be handled. This is not a public event. While usually everyone is allowed, it's the family paying the bill that determines how things are handled. I think the VA director is simply on a politically correct power trip and is overstepping their bounds immensely. My right to use and believe in god is just as important as their right not to.

bobajabob

June 30, 2011 - 7:12pm

Isn't that what the Director was trying to do? Respect the family by asking them to specify whether they wanted a religious service or not. I'm sorry to be on the prod about this but I have had to bury two of my brothers, both veterans and both atheists. On both occasions, IN SPITE OF MY MAKING THEIR WISHES KNOWN some asshat got up and spouted his Jezzus Dogma. I am not Atheist or Christian or Muslim or Jewish-my beliefs are my own business and in spite of 500 years of "Christians" trying to suppress them they remain strong. Your God and his Institutions has nothing to show me-you say one thing and do another. Whether it is St. Reagan or Jeezus people keep urging us to do the opposite of what their hero really did-St. Reagan raised taxes in record amounts and expanded government like nobody before or after. Heal the Sick, Feed the Hungry, care for the infant and the elderly, visit the prisoner, not eliminate foodstamps, education, unemployment insurance and imprison the poor.

dzobels

July 5, 2011 - 7:25pm

Your resentments are eating you alive, bro. The way you choose to spell "Jeezus" shows your contempt for anyone holding those beliefs - profoundly prejudiced and stereotypal thinking on your part. Sorry you were hurt so deeply by the sincere mistakes of believers thinking they were showing respect to your brothers. Find yourself some healing somewhere, somehow. There are "twelve steps to sanity" as noted lyrically by the drummer of the band Dream Theater. Check into them. (No "Jeezus" required).

TXMarine74

July 4, 2011 - 8:24am

First and foremost, I am forever thankful and appreciative for your brothers' service to our country. It is unfortunate and regrettable if their wishes were not followed... The issue at hand isn't that the Director is simply specifying whether it's a religious service or not. The Director is attempting to censor the content of services by requiring prayers/messages to be pre-screened and only those approved by her can be shared. Ultimately, the Director determines the services, not the family. Where is the respect in that? I would expect someone with your experiences to focus on the family's right to bury as they wish (not to mention the disregard to freedom of speech, expression, etc). Instead though, you went the generic 'blame everything on the Christians' path before spiraling down to incoherent rambling... God Bless!

jmitche

June 30, 2011 - 2:43pm

This Director should be fired NOW and investigated at to possible criminal charges.

MollyM1978

July 2, 2011 - 12:54pm

Yeah - FIRE FIRST - ask questions later. Great thinking.

Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Tell us what you think