Consent Decree Issued in Case of VA Prayer Censorship
In a little-reported conclusion to the lawsuit accusing a Texas Veterans’ Affairs cemetery of censoring religious content, Federal District Judge Lynn Hughes signed a consent decree largely acknowledging the validity of the accusations.
The consent decree contained 50 individual points, though it applied only to the Houston National Cemetery, and the VA reiterated it felt some of the decrees were already VA policy.
- The Cemetery is prohibited from interfering with prayers or “words of religious expression absent family objection.” Previously, it had been reported the local cemetery leader was requiring families to affirmatively assent to such content prior to its use.
- The National Cemetery Administration policies were modified to remove the requirement that “special ceremonies and events at VA national cemeteries” and speeches at those events (including prayers) be “inclusive” and “nonderogatory.”
- The “Thirteen Fold” Flag Recitation is now specifically permitted absent objection, when it was previously described as censored.
- The VA is prohibited from banning “God” or “Jesus” from condolence cards distributed at services or in oral communications of condolence.**
- The chapel at the Houston National Cemetery must be open for use during services, must be called a “chapel,” and cannot be used for storage as it had been. The Bible, cross, and Star of David which were previously displayed in it must be returned.
- The decree also contains somewhat complex relationship changes “decertifying” the VFW and other groups as employees of the VA, but allowing them to continue as private citizens.
- Attorneys’ fees of $215,000 were awarded to the plaintiffs.
The decree seems to largely validate the original accusations, much of which centered on the local cemetery’s policy of requiring groups to get family members’ explicit permission before using religious expressions (which is explicitly reversed above).
The final signature on the decree was Arleen Ocasio, the woman largely blamed for instituting the policies and issues apparently reversed above.
** Despite the VA consenting to this prohibition, former military atheist Jason Torpy has indicated such a policy is still in place at Arlington National Cemetery, which is administered by the Department of the Army, not the VA.
Via the ADF.