Press Releases

Breaking: Knights of Columbus Sue After Park Service Denies Longstanding Memorial Day Service, Calling it Demonstration

May 21, 2024

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.21.24
Contact: John Manning,
Direct: 972-941-4453

 Breaking: Knights of Columbus Sue After Park Service Denies Longstanding Memorial Day Service, Calling it Demonstration
Law firms ask court to force NPS to grant permit for longstanding service in cemetery honoring fallen soldiers now prohibited due to new policy against “religious services.” 

Petersburg, VA—Today, First Liberty Institute and the international law firm McGuireWoods LLP filed a motion for temporary restraining order against the National Park Service in Petersburg, Virginia after officials prohibited the Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass service in the Poplar Grove National Cemetery.  The Knights have held the service at the park every year since at least the 1960s.

You can read the motion here.

“The policy and the decision blocking the Knights of Columbus from continuing their long-standing religious tradition is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” said John Moran, Partner at McGuireWoods.  “We urge the court to grant our restraining order and allow the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day.”

Roger Byron, Senior Counsel at First Liberty, added, “The National Park Service is way out of line.  This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent.  Hopefully the court will grant the Knights the relief they need to keep this honorable tradition alive.”

Founded almost 150 years ago in the United States, the Knights of Columbus is a Catholic fraternal service order with over 2 million members worldwide. One long-standing way the Knights have lived out their faith and their patriotism is by holding Memorial Day masses to honor and pray for the nation’s fallen soldiers.  Until last year, the Knights had always held a Memorial Day mass within the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, and the mass (or a prayer service when a priest was not available) had been celebrated there every year without incident since at least the 1960s.  But last year, for the first time, the NPS denied the Knights a permit to hold the service in the cemetery, citing a new policy that designates “religious services” as prohibited “demonstrations.”  Under the new policy, the Knights longstanding memorial service now must be held somewhere outside the cemetery grounds even though other events may be held in the cemetery.

The motion for a temporary restraining order states:  “The case for preliminary relief is simple: The Knights are likely to succeed on their claims that Defendants’ application of their policies to bar the Knights from conducting a ‘religious service’ in the National Cemetery—as they had previously done for generations—violates their right to religious free exercise under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  The Court should therefore grant the motion and enter an immediate temporary restraining order or issue a preliminary injunction allowing the Knights to continue their decades-long tradition of hosting a Memorial Day mass inside the Poplar Grove National Cemetery.”

# # #

About First Liberty Institute

First Liberty Institute is the largest legal organization in the nation dedicated exclusively to defending religious freedom for all Americans.

To arrange an interview, contact John Manning at or by calling 972-941-4453.

Social Facebook Social Instagram Twitter X Icon | First Liberty Institute Social Youtube Social Linkedin

Terms of UsePrivacy PolicyState DisclosuresSitemap • © 2024 Liberty Institute® is a trademark of First Liberty Institute