HOUSTON – A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to stop banning prayer and the word "God" at national cemeteries.
The legal battle started in Houston in May when Arleen Ocashio, director of the Houston National Cemetery, told Pastor Scott Rainey that he could no longer pray "in Jesus’ name" at Memorial Day ceremonies there.
Liberty Institute obtained an emergency restraining order from Judge Lynn Hughes allowing Pastor Rainey to pray.
"We are thankful that after almost five months of litigation, the government is finally doing the right thing by entering into a consent decree and ending religious hostility at the Houston National Cemetery," said Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, in a written statement. "The decree not only impacts religious freedoms in Houston, but at all VA cemeteries nationwide because the government has agreed to modify two national policies hostile to religion."
Liberty Institute investigators say they uncovered evidence that Ocasio and other VA officials also told volunteers with the National Memorial Ladies to remove the word "God" from their vocabulary; required grieving family members to submit prayers in writing for approval when burying loved ones; and closed the cemetery chapel and began using it as a storage facility.
"I am glad to see the VA overturn these policies, which will allow us to perform the entire VFW burial ritual," said Inge Conley, a 20-year veteran with the U.S. Army who served two tours in Korea and is now the Commander of VFW District 4 in Houston. "We should be able to include prayers, mentions of God, and the phrase, ‘May God grant you, grace, mercy and peace,’ to grieving families laying American soldiers to rest."
The decree signed by U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Hughes also ordered the VA department to reopen the Chapel at the Houston National Cemetery.