A Forum for Opinions on News, Politics, and Life
June 29th, 2011
By Dan Miller
According to this article,
Local veterans and volunteer groups accuse Department of Veterans Affairs officials of censoring religious speech — including the word “God” — at Houston National Cemetery.
In one example cited in documents filed this week in federal court, cemetery director Arleen Ocasio reportedly told volunteers with the National Memorial Ladies that they had to stop telling families “God bless you” at funerals and that they had to remove the words “God bless” from condolence cards.
“It’s just unfair that somebody would ask us to take God out of our vocabulary,” said Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston National Memorial Ladies.
The matter is now in Federal District Court and the complaint
accuses VA of “a widespread and consistent practice of discriminating against private religious speech” at the cemetery.
Ocasio [the cemetery director] is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Her assistant, Amanda Rhodes-Wharton, said she could not discuss the matter due to ongoing litigation.
The cemetery chapel, now referred to as a meeting facility, according to documents filed with the court, is no longer available as a chapel. There is no indication whether it can be used as for C.A.I.R. training sessions in religious sensitivity.
“The doors remain locked during Houston National Cemetery operating hours, the cross and the Bible have been removed, and the Chapel bells, which tolled at least twice a day, are now inoperative,” the complaint reads. “Director Ocasio only unlocks the chapel doors when meetings or training sessions are held at the building. Furthermore, it is no longer called a ‘chapel’ but a ‘meeting facility.’ ”
VA spokeswoman Jessica Jacobsen confirmed the chapel is closed but she said it has nothing to do with the litigation. “It was closed prior to Memorial Day, and it was closed because of construction,” she said.
What sort of training sessions require a meeting room at a cemetery? Care and maintenance of shovels? Sensitivity toward the relatives of deceased veterans? How to curb global warming by using green burial techniques?
VA counsel, who seemed quite unprepared, was questioned by the presiding judge.
Judge Hughes denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case, but not before upbraiding VA’s attorney, Fred Hinrichs, for being unable to answer his questions.
When Hughes asked whether the chapel was open, Hinrichs said he didn’t know.
“Why not?” the judge shot back. “A phone call to the cemetery could ascertain if that is true or not.”
“Yes, your honor,” the attorney said.
“So the VA has been investigating for a month and hasn’t come to any conclusions?” the judge pressed.
Hinrichs said some of the claims in the complaint aren’t factually correct, but he wasn’t prepared to give specifics.
“I don’t know that they’re true,” the judge said, “but an afternoon on Veterans Memorial Drive and you should be able to document most of this stuff.”
He gave the government until July 21 to investigate and respond to the claims in the complaint.
Judge Lynn Hughes seems a perceptive judge to me.
The U.S. Supreme Court and many inferior courts traditionally open their sessions with these words: “Oyez! Oyez! God Save the United States and This Honorable Court!” The Houston cemetery director should immediately send off a nasty directive demanding that they all stop, instanter.
The likely basis of the banning is that some people may find any references to God offensive. However, prayers and religious messages are offered only when desired by the families of the deceased.
According to court documents, Ocasio banned veterans organizations and volunteer groups from using certain religious words such as “God” or “Jesus,” censored the content of prayer and forbade the use of religious messages in burial rituals unless the deceased’s family submitted the text for prior approval.
The documents allege that VA prohibited volunteer honor guards from providing optional recitations to families for consideration, and that when burial teams conduct military honors for a veteran’s funeral, a government official monitors what is said.
Some people most likely do find such references objectionable, but then some find anything offensive. I remember cartoonist Al Capp’s creation of a student group, Students Wildly Indignant About Nearly Everything (SWINE).
An Agnostic and taking seriously the First Amendment prohibition against governmental prohibitions of the free exercise of religion and speech, I don’t find such references at all offensive. Rather, I consider them highly appropriate for use by and for those who want their solace in laying to rest their deceased relatives and friends. I do find the reported action of the VA (i.e., federal) cemetery director extraordinarily offensive. My sense of offense, and that taken by those who do believe in God, probably won’t cause the good director to stop her nonsense, however. Give a twit power to tell people what to do and what not to do and it will be exercised; the law becomes inconsequential if twits can simply consult their personal feelings instead.
I wonder whether references to Allah are also prohibited at the cemetery. Gaia? Thor? Athena? Zeus?
(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)
(To avoid spam, comments with three or more links will be held for moderation and approval.)
Copyright 2017 Opinion Forum