Religious liberty is guaranteed by the Constitution, and nowhere should it be protected more vigorously than during funerals at our national cemeteries. After all, many of the service members buried in those cemeteries gave up their lives to defend this country's freedoms.
But at Houston National Cemetery - second in size only to Arlington National Cemetery - there are disturbing reports that religious expression is being silenced.
In May, cemetery officials said ministers had to submit their prayers for prior approval. One minister who did so was told his prayer was not "inclusive" enough, and that it should not make reference to his particular faith. Bizarrely, the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington supported the unconstitutional order to change the prayer.
So the minister, the Rev. Scott Rainey of Living Word Church, went to court, and a federal judge appropriately issued a restraining order to prevent the censorship of the prayer. The judge said the pastor could not be forbidden to use the words "Jesus Christ." He added that "The government's compulsion of a program's inclusion or exclusion of a particular religion offends the Constitution. The Constitution does not [give] government the authority to compel emptiness in a prayer ... ."
But now veterans groups say there has been more hostility toward religion at Houston National Cemetery. They say the chapel has been turned into a meeting room, and its cross and Bible have been taken out. Worse still, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the National Memorial Ladies and the American Legion, which take part in funerals for veterans, say in court documents that they have been banned "from using certain religious words such as 'God' or 'Jesus,'" The Houston Chronicle reported, and that the families of deceased service members have to submit for prior approval by cemetery officials any religious comments that are to be included in funerals. The documents say a government official monitors what is said at the funerals.
The case stirred such outrage that hundreds of demonstrators showed up at Houston National Cemetery on Independence Day to protest the alleged censorship.
The government has until July 21 to respond to the complaint. If the allegations of censorship are true, the judge should issue a clear ruling upholding religious liberty.