Press Releases

Park Service Prohibits Knights of Columbus Longstanding Memorial Day Service in Petersburg Cemetery

May 13, 2024

News Release
For Immediate Release: 5.13.24
Contact: John Manning,
Direct: 972-941-4453


Park Service Prohibits Knights of Columbus Longstanding Memorial Day Service in Petersburg Cemetery

Law firms urge NPS to grant permit for longstanding service in cemetery honoring fallen soldiers now denied due to new policy prohibiting “religious services.”

Petersburg, VA—Today, First Liberty Institute and the international law firm McGuireWoods LLP sent a letter to National Park Service officials at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia urging them to allow the Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass service in the cemetery, where it has been held every year since at least the 1960s.  Last year the NPS suddenly prohibited the Knights from holding the service in the cemetery due to a new policy prohibiting “religious services” there.  Though other events may be held in the cemetery, the policy requires religious services be held outside the cemetery grounds.

You can read the letter here.

“Our hope is that the National Park Service will immediately correct this error and grant the permit,” said John Moran, Partner at McGuireWoods.  “This policy and the decision to block 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.”

Roger Byron, Senior Counsel at First Liberty, added, “Due to the religious nature of the Knights’ annual service to honor and pray for the nation’s fallen soldiers, they have been assigned a second class status and relegated to the proverbial back of the bus.  That is precisely the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship the First Amendment was enacted to prevent.  Surely this decision was an oversight.”

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 letter to the Park’s chief ranger states, “There is no reason under NPS regulations or Policy Memorandum 22-01 to deny the Knights a permit to hold the service within the cemetery. Indeed, even since the adoption of Policy Memorandum 22-01, the Park Service has authorized Memorial Day masses in other National Cemeteries.”  As the letter further explains, “it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to discriminate against and censor the Knights’ activities solely because of their religious character.”  Further, the “prohibition of the Knights’ Memorial Day service due to its religious nature is not merely unlawful content-based discrimination on speech—it is textbook viewpoint discrimination, which is per se unconstitutional.”

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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.

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