Imagine how you would feel if you lost a loved one serving in the military. Your family has paid the ultimate price, protecting the freedoms that all Americans enjoy. And now friends and relatives have gathered at the "National Cemetery" for a funeral service and to pay respects to the departed. However, nothing can proceed until the words of the memorial service have been screened and approved.
Sound a little far-fetched? Well, That's the battle that's been happening between Texas veterans and the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) for months.
Earlier this year, the (VA) asked that all specific references to God be removed from the Memorial Day ceremonies slated to be held at the Houston cemetery. A judge granted a stay against the VA and the prayers were allowed to go on without government oversight or editing. But the battle continued, despite a very clear warning from the bench:
the judge warned the agency it had stepped too far, saying officials were essentially "decreeing how citizens honor their veterans."
Attorney Jeff Mateer represents the Liberty Institute; he says the cemetery director won't allow the use of "God" or "Jesus" unless the family submits the prayer in writing for her approval.
"In addition, director Arlene Ocasio has stated the National Memorial Ladies cannot tell families 'God Bless,' they cannot communicate in writing or orally," says Mateer. "And that violates the U.S. Constitution."
Marilyn Koepp is with the National Memorial Ladies. "I would have been appalled if when the VFW did my father's funeral in 2004, if they could not have said 'God,' what is happening to our country?" she asks.
Vietnam veteran Nobelton Jones hands out shells from the 21-gun salute to families, but says the cemetery director is trying to censor him as well.
"On March 15, she said that at the District 4 ceremony, that I could not say 'We wish that God grant you and your family grace, mercy and peace,' she specifically said that," claims Jones.
"It's just unfair that somebody would ask us to take God out of our vocabulary," Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston National Memorial Ladies, told the Houston Chronicle.
"I could've kept my mouth shut and let things happen, but when it comes to standing up for your belief in God and giving comfort to the families, I don't want to regret not saying anything," she added. "We all had to stand up for what we believe in."
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