Using the names “God” and “Jesus” at veterans’ funerals has been banned in a cemetery in Houston, Texas, it has been revealed.
The decision prompted more than 1,000 demonstrators to converge on Houston National Cemetery on Independence Day to protest against the censorship of burial services.
And one veteran described the ban as “a slap in the face to every veteran who fought for our freedom.”
The Houston Area Pastor Council planned the protest in support of a federal lawsuit filed by the Liberty Institute two weeks ago.
The suit accuses U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials and Houston National Cemetery director Arleen Ocasio of banning members of certain military groups from invoking the names “God” and “Jesus” at burials.
The lawsuit also claims the cemetery’s director said religious messages for funerals must be submitted to her for approval and that she rebranded the cemetery chapel a “meeting room”.
One Marine veteran remarked: “We felt it was one of the best ways we could have spent this time of the Fourth of July. We feel like it’s our duty.”
Arleen Ocasio has not responded to requests for comment, but other VA officials say the names of God and Jesus are not only allowed during interments, they are freely spoken at national cemeteries across the country.
“We cherish the religious freedoms our Veterans secured for us,” Steve Muro, VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs said in a statement recently published online.
“At all VA national cemeteries, families are free to choose and use the burial rites and rituals that are meaningful or sacred to them,” he went on, adding that “families are equally free to have a service without religious references.”
Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, said the strong turnout demonstrated to veterans’ groups and volunteers who attend burials at the cemetery that they are not alone.
“The director of this cemetery, since she got here about a year ago, has engaged in systematic oppression of religious speech on this ground,” he said.
“They’re not going to fight this battle by themselves. We’re here to tell them that you are not, on our watch, going to tell them that they can’t invoke the names of God or Jesus Christ.”