Senator Calls for Investigation into VA Censorship, Atheists Defend

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has asked the Department of Veterans Affairs to investigate allegations that a VA cemetery in Texas has been censoring “God” and “Jesus” from ceremonies.  From the Senator’s letter to VA Secretary Erik Shineski:

I am…greatly concerned by the complaints my office has received from veterans and their families that the Houston National Cemetery Director has forbidden the name of God or Jesus to be used during funeral services at the cemetery, even if the family wishes to do so. Our veterans swore to uphold the Constitution with their lives, and they and their families’ religious freedom should be honored, not prohibited. [emphasis added]

I am requesting that you look into this situation to determine if there are indeed any religious prohibitions or restrictions on speech or religious expression at the Houston National Cemetery. I would also ask that you determine if this situation is unique to the Houston Cemetery or if there are policies in place that might lead to religious prohibitions or restricted speech at other veteran cemeteries.

The controversy started around Memorial Day, when it took a court injunction to allow a local preacher to say “Jesus” when he prayed.  Now the complaint has ballooned into accusations of general censorship and religious discrimination, with parties claiming VA officials at the cemetery required prayers be submitted for approval prior to ceremonies, and they censored some content.

On the other side of the fence, Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers seemed to not only confirm the censorship, but also approve of it:

The Veterans Affairs Cemetery Administration protects the family when it restricts the religious speech of volunteers… [emphasis added]

(Torpy has previously approved of the military imposing restrictions on religious freedom following the repeal of DADT.)

VA spokesman Josh Taylor reportedly responded by saying

families decide whether a religious service occurs and what type. He says “the name of God or Jesus is not only allowed at burial services, it is common and freely spoken” at national cemeteries nationwide.