Only a few days before Memorial Day U.S. District Judge, Lynn N. Hughes (Houston, Texas), issued a restraining order against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Arleen Ocasio (Director of Houston’s National Cemetery). The restraining order declared that the VA and Ms. Ocasio could not require Pastor Scott Rainey to remove Jesus’ name from his Memorial Day prayer. On June 27th, as the National Memorial Ladies of Houston joined forces with the VFW in their defense of the 1st Amendment, we learned that Arleen Ocasio, along with the VA, have done much more than censor prayer in their concerted attack upon our freedom to worship.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the National Memorial Ladies have added some serious charges in their suit to defend our most vital freedom, the freedom of religion, the freedom which gave birth to our Constitution. Their charges (quoted from the Liberty Institute who is prosecuting the Rainey suit) of religious discrimination and intolerance include the following:
• “On at least four separate occasions, government officials told the burial teams that prayer and religious speech could no longer be included in the burial ritual unless the family submits a specific prayer or message in writing to Director Arleen Ocasio for her approval. Government official Jose Henriquez also told the VFW Honor Guard Commander, Junior Vice Commander and Chaplain that the word “God” is forbidden.
• American Heritage Funeral Home , which sits next to the Houston National Cemetery and specializes in veterans’ funerals, was instructed by government officials that the funeral home may not inform the families that they have the option of requesting prayer in the VFW burial ritual.
• About a year ago, Director Arleen Ocasio instructed the President of the National memorial Ladies that the words “God” and “Jesus” could no longer be written in condolence cards to families. Volunteers were also banned from speaking a religious message when talking directly to veterans’ families on cemetery grounds.
• The chapel where families used to gather, pray, and reflect has been closed and is now called a “meeting facility” and used for storage. The chapel cross and Bible have been removed and the bells that once used to chime are no longer used.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the courtroom yesterday was filled with a standing-room-only crowd of uniformed veterans, honor guard participants, women of the National Memorial Ladies in their black vests and white blouses and supporters proudly wearing eagle and flag emblazoned T-shirts.
The government asked for a motion to dismiss the suit but Judge Hughes denied it. Judge Hughes castigated the government’s VA defense attorney, Fred Hinrichs, for his inability to answer the judge’s simple questions.
When asked whether the chapel was open, the VA defense attorney said that he didn’t know. The judge shot back with a quick, “Why not? A phone call to the cemetery could ascertain if that is true or not.” When asked what the defense’s month-long investigation has found, the government response offered no specifics other than a comment that some of the prosecution’s claims are factually incorrect. The judge suggested that an afternoon drive on Veteran’s Memorial Drive might provide some documentation. The judge gave the VA and Ms. Arleen Ocasio until July 21 to investigate and respond to the charges.
Some of the comments from the heavily supportive crowd revealed their fervor:
• Vietnam veteran and Honor Guard Junior Vice Commander, Nobleton Jones said that he had been told by a government official that he could no longer say, “We ask that God grant you and your family grace, mercy and peace,” as he presented grieving family members shell casings from gun salutes at the burials.
o This “makes me feel smaller, even after I spent my life in the military, fighting so that people should be able to say that. I did all this for my country and you are going to tell me what I can and can’t say?”
o “Today we ask the government to make it right.”
• Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston National Memorial Ladies said, “It’s just unfair that somebody would ask us to take God out of our vocabulary.”
• Incoming VFW District 4 Commander, Inge Conley, said, “All we wanted was to give honor to fallen soldiers.”
• John Spahr, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said, “We are private citizens in a private organization, and yet we are restricted from saying what our ritual calls for.”
Our Constitution was written and based upon the freedom of religion. Our Founding Fathers placed it at the top of the list of our most basic rights. The 1st Amendment to the Constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Thank God for Pastor Rainey.
Thank God for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and for all who have served in our military.
Thank God for the National Memorial Ladies of Houston for their years of service to our fallen freedom fighters.
Thank God for the Liberty Institute for their defense of our fundamental rights to “freedom of religion,” “freedom of speech,” and the right “to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
I pray that U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes rules in favor of Pastor Rainey and that our wayward government, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Director Arleen Ocasio see the “Light” reflected by our Founding Fathers because,
“Our words should never require the stamp of approval from a wayward government,
despite the wishes of those in their ‘royal’ offices.”
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