A Texas congressman has called for an investigation into what he calls “anti-religious” and “anti-Christian” decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to allegedly prohibit veterans from mentioning “God” or “Jesus” during funerals at the Houston National Cemetery.
“The federal government should not have a policy of being anti-religious especially at a religious ceremony – a burial of one of our veterans,” said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. “Congress has got to get involved and change the anti-Christian, anti-religion philosophy in the Veterans Administration.”
Poe was responding to accusations filed in federal court that the Houston National Cemetery banned veterans from saying the words “God” and “Jesus” during funeral services.
Representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies accused cemetery director Arleen Ocasio of:
1. Ordering an American Legion post to remove prayers from its burial rituals;
2. Telling the National Memorial Ladies they could no longer include “God bless” in its condolence cards or use religious messages when talking with veterans’ families;
3. Shutting down the cemetery chapel and turning it into a meeting room
A spokesperson for the National Cemetery told Fox News Radio they could not comment on pending litigation and would not go into details about procedures or protocols involving religious funerals.
The Department of Veterans Affairs released a statement to Fox News Radio, stating that it “respects every veteran and their family’s right to burial service that honors their faith tradition.”
“Prayer is a very personal and sacred moment,” wrote Keith Ethridge, director of the VA National Chaplain Center. “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.”
However, Poe said there is evidence to the contrary and he wants Ocasio fired.
“The director of the Houston National Cemetery allegedly has engaged in aggressive hostile censorship of religion at the second largest cemetery for veterans in the United States,” Poe said. “This authoritarian behavior and religious discrimination should not be tolerated.”
Last May, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes had to intervene after a Christian pastor was told to stop using the words “Jesus Christ” in his invocation. The judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the Dept. of Veterans Affairs from censoring Pastor Scott Rainey’s prayer.
The most recent incident infuriated volunteers at the cemetery.
“We were told we could no longer say ‘God bless you’ and ‘God bless your family,’” Marilyn Koepp told MyFoxHouston.com. “How did I feel? I probably shouldn’t say how I felt because it was absolutely appalling that this woman would come aboard and tell us we cannot say ‘God bless you.’”
Poe said the directive reminded him of the Soviet Union, “when the government prohibited any exercise of religion in any public place. Here we are trying to bury America’s heroes and the same situation is occurring in the United States.”
“We aren’t going to put up with it,” Poe said. “We’re going to find out what their policy is and we’re going to change that policy so that it complies with the Constitution and the First Amendment and (will) respect our veterans rather than dishonor them.”