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EDITORIAL: Veterans allowed to rest in peace

Judge overturns administration ban on God at national cemeteries

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America's heroes can once again be laid to rest with appropriate religious services. A federal court last month approved a consent decree in which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) agreed to drop its ban on prayer and the mention of "God" during funerals and other events at national cemeteries.

A lawsuit had been filed after Houston National Cemetary director Arleen Ocasio told a pastor to edit the Supreme Being out of a funeral service. Pastor Scott Rainey had been invited to give an invocation at a privately-hosted Memorial Day ceremony. References to "God" or "Jesus" had to go so that his remarks would sound more inclusive.

Working with the Liberty Institute, Mr. Rainey asked for and received a temporary restraining order against Mrs. Ocasio's imposition on his First Amendment rights of freedom of worship and free expression. Mr. Rainey ended up praying in the way he wanted, but the case uncovered other examples of Mrs. Ocasio's official hostility to religious expression. On her watch, the cemetery chapel had been designated a "meeting facility" and was closed to anything but official business. Its Bibles and cross were removed, and its bells, which had tolled twice daily, were silenced. The back pews were used as a dumping ground for storage boxes.

Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4, American Legion Post 586, and the National Memorial Ladies - organizations which have provided voluntary honor guards at the requests of families - were also being censored. According to the complaint filed in federal court, they were told that "prayer and religious speech could no longer be included in the burial ritual unless the family submits a specific prayer or message in writing to Director Ocasio for her approval." The VFW honor guard had traditionally gathered the brass shell casings from their gun salute, placed them in a pouch and given them to family member of the deceased, saying "I present you with these shell cases from the shots that were fired to honor our departed comrade. We ask that God grant you and your family grace, mercy, and peace." This was banned. The National Memorial Ladies, whose mission is to make certain that no veteran is ever laid to rest alone, traditionally handed family members cards that read, "God bless you." This too was banned.

Complaints reached the ears of Rep. John Culberson, and in July the Texas Republican unobtrusively attended a veteran's funeral at the cemetery. He witnessed Mrs. Ocasio's badgering of VFW volunteers and her demanding they comply with her directives or leave. He said he wanted to see Mrs. Ocasio's salary zeroed out. "The privacy of a funeral is absolutely sacred," Mr. Culberson said later. "That is between the veteran, their family and their God. ... They're burying our heroes without the benefit of a prayer and I can't stand it." He said it was happening because "these idiots at the VA don't want to offend anybody," but instead they end up offending everyone.

Ultimately, the Obama administration caved. The chapel was reopened for its appropriate purpose. Mrs. Ocasio is apparently still on the job but is keeping such a low profile this is difficult to confirm. In her defense she said she was only following orders. The White House has yet to comment.

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