A federal judge in Texas ruled Thursday that the government cannot prohibit a Houston preacher from saying “Jesus Christ” while delivering an invocation at an upcoming Memorial Day ceremony to be held at the national cemetery in the city.
The Rev. Scott Rainey, the pastor at Living Word Church of the Nazerene, has given the invocation at the Houston National Cemetery for the last two years, each time ended the prayer with a reference to Jesus.
But a month ago, Arleen Ocasio, the director of the cemetery, asked to review Rainey's prayer before the ceremony this Monday, according to court papers. The pastor agreed, but four hours later, she responded with an email saying that “while it was very well written” she asked that it commemorate “veterans from all cultures and religious beliefs” -- in other words, not just those who believe in Jesus.
Rainey called Ocasio, and she told him that if he didn't change the prayer, he would not be allowed to deliver the Memorial Day remarks, Rainey said in his lawsuit against Ocasio. But it was a private event, and court papers pointed out that the department only objected to the parts of the speech deemed too religious.
Rainey then pleaded his case to the office of the secretary of Veteran Affairs, but the department told Rainey that the cemetery's policy was “viewpoint-neutral” and “appropriate,” according to court papers.
The pastor also named the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department in the lawsuit to be allowed to refer to Jesus Christ at the invocation.
In a statement, Ocasio said the VA "cannot be exclusive at a ceremony meant to be inclusive for all our nation's veterans," the Associated Press reported. A phone message and email from FoxNews.com to Ocasio were not returned before this story was published.
But Judge Lynn N. Hughes sided with Rainey, ruling that censorship and religious discrimination violate the First Amendment.
"The government does not have the right to write its peoples' prayers," Kelly Shackelford, the CEO of the Liberty Institute, said. Liberty Institute defends First Amendment rights and defended the pastor in this case. "This is a great Memorial Day victory."