In The Military

Houston National Cemetery Bans God from Memorial Day and Veterans Funerals


Rainey et al v. VA | Liberty Institute

Rainey et al v. VA

At Issue: Religious Hostility against Veterans
Case Status: Case Closed—Liberty Institute VICTORY!


The Big Picture
In 2011, Liberty Institute uncovered multiple constitutional violations taking place at the Houston National Cemetery, including requiring a pastor to submit his prayer in advance to a government official for approval; prohibiting the VFW and The American Legion from performing their burial ritual, which references God; prohibiting volunteers with the National Memorial Ladies from saying “God bless you” to families; prohibiting family members from having the burial ritual with references to God they desired; and closing the cemetery chapel, removing its religious symbols, and using it as a storage facility.


Why This Case Matters
These egregious violations prohibited grieving families from burying their loved ones—those who fought bravely for our freedoms—according to their religious beliefs and convictions. The outcome of this case was critical, as it affected the religious freedom of more than 2 million veterans.


The Facts

  • In May 2011, the director of Houston National Cemetery, Arlene Ocasio required Pastor Scott Rainey to submit his prayer for her approval before praying at a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery.
  • After reviewing Pastor Rainey’s prayer, Director Ocasio informed him that, in order to pray, he would need to remove religious references from his prayer, including praying in Jesus‘ name.
  • Liberty Institute stepped in to help, and upon further investigation, we uncovered additional First Amendment violations at the cemetery, including; prohibiting volunteers with the National Memorial Ladies from saying “God bless you” to families; prohibiting family members from having the burial ritual with references to God they desired; and closing the cemetery chapel, removing its religious symbols and using it as a storage facility.
  • VA officials also instructed honor guards from local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and The American Legion to remove religious elements from their burial rituals.
  • Liberty Institute originally filed suit on behalf of Pastor Rainey, but amended its original complaint to add the VFW District 4, American Legion Post 586, the National Memorial Ladies, and widows Lisa Ward and Geri Lakey, as all parties were impacted by the unlawful censorship and religious hostility.
  • After almost five months of litigation, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes signed an order requiring the VA to lift the ban on prayer, to permit the burial rituals of the veterans organizations, including the references to God, to allow the use of the word “God” at national cemeteries, to revoke national policies hostile to religion, and to reopen the chapel at the Houston National Cemetery.
  • The ultimate ruling by the Court not only impacted religious freedoms in Houston, but at all VA cemeteries nationwide because the government agreed to modify two national policies that were hostile to religion.

What You Can Do
There is a “politically correct” war against religious liberty throughout the public arena, including in the U.S. military. It is part of the war against open expression of religious belief and values in America as a whole. That is why Liberty Institute launched our Armed Services Religious Liberty Project.

We have a long track record of success when it comes to defending our nation’s service men and women – both past and present. With your help, we can continue that success and protect the rights of those who put their lives on the line everyday.

If you know anyone in the military experiencing religious discrimination, please have him or her call Liberty’s Armed Forces Religious Liberty Hotline at 1-800-259-9109.

You can also help by continuing to donate! Through your generous financial support, we are able to defend active military personnel and veterans from religious discrimination. Please consider a gift today to help us fight for the freedoms of those who selflessly served and sacrificed so that we may be free.


 

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