Published August 21, 2003
When Patrick Cubbage won back his job as a military honor guard at a New Jersey cemetery after being fired last year for saying the words “God Bless,” he had renewed faith in his freedom of speech and religion, but that quickly changed.
"It's freedom from religion, not freedom of religion,” said Cubbage, a former Philadelphia police officer.
He returned to work at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans' Memorial Cemetery (search) in North Hanover, N.J., earlier this month, but the Vietnam vet says New Jersey’s Department of Veteran Affairs (search) went back on its word, telling him he still can’t say “God Bless” while presenting the flag to veteran’s families at funeral services — even at a cemetery that has countless references to God and various religions eternally etched in stone.
Cubbage, 54, says most all funeral services at the cemetery include either a member of the clergy or at least some religious reference and he would never invoke the word God if a family member objected. But in the 500 funerals he's been a part of that's never happened.
"Where's the dignity for the veterans and the respect for their families at this flag presentation?” Cubbage asked. “Not only that — how about the courtesy to our own country to say God bless the United States of America? I mean, what's so hard about that?"
The retired army sergeant insists he’s just following Department of Defense protocol when he blesses the veteran’s family and country. And Fox News found that an instructional video put out by the DOD does include a reference to God, in which a soldier says, “God Bless America.”
But state military and Veterans’ Affairs officials want to leave religion up to military chaplains or civilian clergy, and said they will “offer additional prayers, words of comfort or additional religious elements.”
Cubbage’s attorney believes the state is too worried about being politically correct, and he’s now threatening a lawsuit and is taking his fight to Capitol Hill.
“We hope that we can get some legislation through Congress, which will basically solidify this in every cemetery in the country,” said John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization that provides free legal services to people who feel their constitutional and human rights have been threatened or violated.
Cubbage said in the end he answers to a higher power and just wants to be able to use the words President Bush closes every speech with.