Monday, July 4, 2011

Dispute use of the words God and Jesus at VA cemetery

Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness - inscribed on the tomb of the unknown Revolutionary War Soldier

Houston – They came to the National Cemetery, more than 1,000 people protesting what they perceive as a policy against using the words God or Jesus in burial ceremonies here.

In what was no doubt one of the strangest July 4 rituals performed today, elements of The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, certain women known as the National Memorial Ladies who make sure no homeless veteran is buried alone, and rifle squads who perform ceremonial salutes when a soldier or sailor is buried here, all gathered to protest.

The ladies said that if it were not for them, many homeless veterans would be buried alone, with no one standing by to mourn them.

They will take their grievances to a U.S. District Court on July 15.

It will be the second such lawsuit heard on the matter. In May, an area minister filed suit in the same court and won the right to invoke the name of God and Jesus, arguing that to prohibit his right to do so is a violation of the First Amendment rights to freely exercise religion and to speak without prior restraint.

He claimed that the Cemetery Director, Arlene Ocasio, had required he and others submit a written version of what they plan to say at graveside services.

It is a curious dispute because a press spokesman for the Veterans Administration claims that the agency has no such policy that would prohibit any such speech on cemetery grounds – or anywhere else.

After all, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit religious speech, but, to the contrary, enjoins the government from taking any action to prohibit expressions of religious sentiment.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”

Many legal scholars feel that Mssrs. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were chiefly concerned with the prohibition of the establishment of a state religion to be exercised at the exclusion of all others – and were at pains to enact a Religious Freedom Statute in the Commonwealth of Virginia long before the introduction and adoption of the First Amendment.

U.S. Representative Ted Poe, R-Houston, a former State District Judge, expressed his outrage.

“Censorship occurs in what they can say, and during the prayers, and how they're forbidden to use certain words like 'Jesus'...the chapel being closed, the Bible being removed, the cross being taken out of the chapel.”

The protesters claim that when Ms. Ocasio took over as director last year, she turned the chapel into a conference room. They say it may no longer be used for religious ceremonies.

Local newsmen say that Ms. Ocasio has failed to return their phone calls and e-mails asking her answer questions about the matter.

One is reminded of Washington Square in Philadelphia, where the remains of soldiers of the American Revolution are buried beneath a checkerboard of neatly spaced stone slabs engraved with the words, "Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's army who died to give you liberty."

They died suddenly, these unknown soldiers, as diseases such as flu and pertussis swept through their winter encampments. Their bodies lay in heaps under the winter snow, unburied, until the spring thaw.

One of the ideas for which those soldiers fought and died is that men and women obtain their human rights directly from God, and not from some silly government or even sillier King, Emperor, member of the nobility, appointed or elected official.

Many of the protesters blamed the alleged conduct of Ms. Ocasio on policies of the Obama Administration. They loudly called for her to be fired from her job.

In the 28 pages of the federal complaint they have filed with the Court, they allege that:

1. Director Ocasio and other Cemetery officials instructed Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4 to remove prayers from its burial rituals and to no longer utter remarks when handing the discharged shell cases from the rifle salute to the family of deceased veterans;
2. Cemetery officials instructed American Legion Post 586 to remove prayers from its burial rituals.
3. Director Ocasio told the National Memorial Ladies that it could no longer include the words “God Bless” in its condolence cards or speak a religious message to veterans' families;
4. Director Ocasio shut down the cemetery chapel; it is now a meeting facility.


  1. This and some of the other information I have run into on this site,I'm presuming is true, is a shame and a disgrace to our country. If this person can have the authority to do what she has done, with no recourse from the public, we are in very bad shape.

  2. Then events of which I have written in this article are a matter of record in the federal court system, and not just in the print and broadcast media.

    Ms. Ocasio has experienced massive reaction from the public, members of which have been to U.S. District Court at least twice to obtain injunctive relief granting them the right to exercise their First Amendment right to worship freely. I must agree with you that it is a sad day when such basic principles of American freedom must be acted out at the funerals of fallen warriors while friends and families are forced to watch and listen to the ugly conflict.

    I do believe that the original intention for the First Amendment was to minimize governmental involvement in any such emotional eruption, not to exacerbate its inevitable occurrence. Each person, each family, each soldier, sailor, Marine or Airman is the final arbiter of just how and when he or she may worship - and that is final. Government authorities have no power to interfere. It's a precedent that extends back at least as far as the Virginia Religious Freedom Statute, sponsored and co-authored by Mssrs. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison when they were members of the Virginia House of Assembly during Colonial times. To ensure that the U.S. Constitution would be ratified by the states, Mr. Madison made its concepts part of the First Amendment so that legislators in the states would be calmed by its guarantees against a totalitarian and autocratic central government. It was part of a total package of rights that were intended to severely limit the powers of the new government.

    You may believe that the public has taken a keen interest in this and all other matters emblematical of the abuse of power by federal officials, sir. That is why committees of correspondence such as The Legendary have always been a part of the revolutionary landscape of the United States republic. You see, you and I also have the perfect license freely to worship, to express ourselves in writing or speech, to publish, to associate with acquaintances of our choice, and to peaceably assemble for the purpose of petitioning the government for a redress of grievances. How unfortunate that assembly must sometimes be effected over the graves of men who have died with honor in the service of their country.

    I thank you for your interest, sir. - The Legendary