by Karla Dial, Focus on the Family, August 23, 2011
A religious-discrimination lawsuit involving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is taking a giant step forward this week, with a federal judge demanding a response from the Obama administration by Thursday.
When Houston National Cemetery Director Arleen Ocasio told a local pastor in May he’d have to delete the word “Jesus” from a funeral prayer, the pastor contacted Liberty Institute, a First Amendment law firm based in Plano and Austin.
Within a week, Liberty Institute uncovered several more cases of religious discrimination at the cemetery, including:
- the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) District 4 burial team being told to omit important religious aspects of its official ceremony;
- the VFW and a private funeral home being told they can’t offer prayer to grieving families;
- a volunteer group being forbidden from writing “God bless you” on condolence cards; and
- the cemetery chapel being closed and used for storage.
Those incidents were added to the case at an update hearing held Monday. Federal District Court Judge Lynn Hughes gave the Department of Veterans Affairs until Thursday to resolve the case by signing a statement saying it will change its policies at the cemetery. If it does not, the case will proceed and Ocasio will be questioned under oath this Friday in the judge’s chambers.
“This emanates from some written policies that the people who aren’t religious shouldn’t have to hear religious things. But these policies are leading to people being robbed of the ceremonies they want for their husbands and fathers,” said Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford. “We’ve clearly got a director here who’s out of control and is anti-religious, but she thought she could get away with it because of the policy.
“When we started pushing on this, the local U.S. attorneys realized they’re in trouble, so they’re ready to settle with us—but every time they go to Washington, they are refused. So this is coming from the very top of the VA and the White House.”
The situation has grown bad enough to attract the attention of Congress.
When constituents told him what was happening, U.S. Rep. John Culberson — a member of the House Appropriations Committee — decided to see for himself in July. He donned a VFW cap and attended a veteran’s funeral with other volunteers. When the veteran’s group refused to warn the grieving widow between the limousine and the grave that their ceremony uses the word “God” five times, Ocasio threw them off the property.
“I’m chairman of the committee in charge of the VA’s money, so I’ve told the VA that unless she is fired, I will zero out (Ocasio’s) salary,” Culberson told a talk radio show July 27. “They’re burying our heroes without the benefit of a prayer. I can’t stand it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Policy On Recitations On The Meaning Of Fold Of An Honor Guard Funeral Flags.”
Watch the “Truth Bomb” videos to get the painful truth from family members and VFW volunteer leaders on the tragic injustice being carried out by government officials at the Houston National Cemetery.
Listen to U.S. Rep. John Culberson discuss his experience with Houston National Cemetery when he dressed up as a VFW volunteer.
Learn more about Liberty Institute.
Read “The Crime of the Cross,” by Karla Dial, April issue of Citizen magazine.
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