House GOP moves to act on religion in vets’ funerals

WASHINGTON — Families of deceased veterans were shocked and angry last year when religious references were banned from funeral rituals … Continued

WASHINGTON — Families of deceased veterans were shocked and angry last year when religious references were banned from funeral rituals and a Memorial Day service at Houston National Cemetery.

A lawsuit eventually resolved the matter, but a House bill would enshrine in law the lessons learned from that isolated incident.

Such protections already exist as a result of the lawsuit and Bush-era policies that protect families’ free exercise of religion at military funerals. However, the bill filed by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, would spell out families’ rights to religious expression while curtailing the government’s role.

Veteran funeral services are held at no cost to families and are offered in any of 131 national cemeteries maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veteran service organizations often attend at the request of families to perform memorial rites.

Under current law, honor guards are prohibited from participating in religious rituals except as requested by families. Problems arose in Houston when the cemetery director misinterpreted this law to prohibit all religious speech.

Though the Houston dispute was rectified, Culberson and the conservative Christian law firm Liberty Institute want an ironclad legal protection for grieving families.

“This was all about the government not being neutral, but being anti-religious, hostile,” Liberty Institute president Kelly Shackelford said.

Shackelford argued that VA policy, even with changes after the Houston lawsuit, is not sufficient to guarantee free religious expression. Rather, a statute is required to clarify the law for cemetery directors nationwide. “Constitutional claims are a very complicated area of law. The statute says real clear: here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do,” he said.

Lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing on Wednesday (June 6), however, questioned the need for new laws when there are no reported problems at other national cemeteries.

“Here’s my concern: the (proposed) law as written would allow people that don’t have a good understanding of the family to force prayers or something that the family finds offensive,” Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., said during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs.

Meanwhile, Rep. Timothy J. Walz, D-Minn., emphasized the need to balance the competing interests of a family’s First Amendment rights and the government’s role in ceremonies.

“I want to be very careful that we strike that perfect balance” between the First Amendment’s ban on established religion and its protection of free exercise of religion, Walz cautioned. He said the most important issue is ensuring that families can determine the religious content of a service.

Shackelford, however, said the problem isn’t about the government’s role in religion. “It’s all about the family’s religious freedom, and if they want to have a burial ritual that mentions God, they have the right to do that,” he said.

The bill, H.R. 2720, has one Republican co-sponsor.

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  • jims7

    We who serve don’t serve any paticular religion nor especially any particular political party, especially one that rubber stamps wars but they and their followers refuse to Sacrifice as to the results of!!

    The new ‘magnetic ribbons’ the ‘parades’, same results, but ‘parades’ only last a few hours on one day! Think ‘Desert Storm’ and ‘Gulf War Syndrome’, Ignored, after the ‘Parades’!

    No Revenues = Still No Sacrifice = That’s Called ‘Support’ For The Troops = DeJa-Vu all over again!!

    Now a decade and counting, told to go shopping, use patriotic meme’s and symbols of support and wave them flags, added to the previous decades of under funding the VA, while the peoples reps Still try and lay blame on the Agency, after rubber stamping wars and costs of and those represented cheer on these wars!

    While the wealthy and other investors garner their booty, still, from both and many have the chutz·pa to call themselves more patriotic{?} then others wrapped in those false flags, using false slogans and various cheap symbols of and then seek one day events or parades to wave all that patriotism, call it “Supporting the Troops”, then go home and either ignore or forget about those that actually sacrificed for the country!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71, and yes U.S. Navy, that which those ‘purple heart bandages’ laughed about were pointed directly at, but especially any who’ve been wounded in our wars of choice and while sending troops into two more!!

  • Joel Hardman

    Why would the honor guard participate in the religious part of a funeral? Am I missing something? Wouldn’t the clergy at the funeral conduct the religious part of the funeral?