Scott Rainey | Cases | First Liberty

VA Officials Censor Prayer and Ban Mentions of God at Cemetery

In May 2011, Arlene Ocasio, the director of Houston National Cemetery, required Pastor Scott Rainey to submit his prayer for her approval before he could pray 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.

First Liberty Institute stepped in to help. Upon further investigation, First Liberty uncovered additional religious liberty 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.

Legal Action

First Liberty Institute originally filed suit on behalf of Pastor Rainey but amended the initial complaint to add the VFW District 4, The American Legion Post 586, the National Memorial Ladies, and widows Lisa Ward and Geri Lakey as additional plaintiffs since they were also impacted by the unlawful censorship and anti-religious hostility at the cemetery.

After almost five months of litigation, U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes signed an order requiring the VA to cease censoring 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 government’s resulting modification of two national policies hostile to religion protected the religious freedom of veterans nationwide.

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