A Texas lawmaker is calling for a congressional investigation of the Houston National Cemetery after he went undercover and determined that cemetery officials are still preventing Christian prayers at the funerals of military veterans.
“The Obama administration continues to try to prevent the word ‘God’ from being used at the funerals of our heroes,” said. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas).
“It’s unacceptable and I’m going to put a stop to it as fast as humanly possible,” Culberson told Fox News Radio. He attended a burial service at the cemetery undercover on July 8, when he says he witnessed volunteer members of the honor guard from the Veterans of Foreign Wars being prohibited from using any references to God.
“The Obama administration had told the nation and me they were not interfering with the prayer said over the graves of veterans,” he said. “And I went undercover to personally verify that claim.” VA officials have strongly denied they’ve banned any religious speech – and have offered support for Arleen Ocasio, the cemetery’s director.
“The idea that invoking the name of God or Jesus is banned at VA national cemeteries is blatantly false,” said VA Press Secretary Josh Taylor in a written statement to Fox News Radio. “The truth is, VA’s policy protects veterans’ families’ rights to pray however they choose at our national cemeteries.”
Taylor declined to comment on the pending lawsuit or other ongoing legal proceedings, but did say, “No one should make judgments before all the facts are known.” Culberson said the commander of the honor guard was told by cemetery officials to approach a grieving widow to reconfirm that she wanted the word God mentioned at her husband’s graveside service.
“He quite correctly said as a Texan and a man of honor and integrity, ‘I’m not bothering that poor woman at this most terrible time of her life. We’re going to do the ritual,’” Culberson said. “Right in front of me, the VA directly and deliberately attempted to prevent the VFW from doing their magnificent, spiritual ritual over the grave of this fallen hero."
The cemetery is already the focus of a lawsuit filed on behalf of the VFW, an American Legion post and Houston’s National Memorial Ladies. They claim the VA banned members of the organizations from using the words “God” or “Jesus” at burial services.
They also allege they were banned from reciting prayers or using religious language during services unless families approved the text in advance. Culberson, who oversees the sub-committee responsible for funding the cemetery, said that he wants the cemetery director fired – and he’s willing to do whatever possible to make sure that happens.
“The cemetery director has to leave,” he said. “I will zero out her salary. If she attempts to work for the VA anywhere in the state of Texas her salary will be zero.”
“It makes my skin crawl that liberals are attempting to drive prayer out of a funeral ceremony for our heroes,” Culberson said. “We’re going to fix this so that no Obama liberal bureaucrat will interfere with the funeral of a hero.”
But Taylor said the rules set in place at the cemetery are meant to protect the grieving families.
“Put simply, VA policy puts the wishes of the veteran’s family above all else on the day it matters most – the day they pay their final respects to their loved ones,” Taylor said. "Out of respect for the families, VA’s policy exists to prevent anyone from disrespecting or interfering with a veteran’s private committal service.”
Controversy first surfaced nationally at the cemetery during a Memorial Day event when a Houston pastor was ordered by the VA to remove the name of Jesus from his prayer.
Culberson said he hopes to hold hearings on the cemetery in the fall.
“They will bury 10 to 20 American heroes today and the Obama administration is preventing prayers from being said over their gravesites – today, ” Culberson said.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary and the author of "Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories."