(Chron) — Local veterans and volunteer groups are accusing Department of Veterans Affairs officials of censoring religious speech — including banning the word “God” — at Houston National Cemetery.
In one example cited in documents filed this week in federal court, cemetery director Arleen Ocasio reportedly told volunteers with the National Memorial Ladies that they had to stop telling the families, “God bless you,” at funerals and that they had to remove the words “God bless” from condolence cards.
The new allegations of “religious hostility” by VA and cemetery officials follow on the heels of a controversy over a prayer in Jesus’ name by Pastor Scott Rainey at a Memorial Day service in the cemetery.
The complaint accuses VA of “a widespread and consistent practice of discriminating against private religious speech” at the cemetery.
Ocasio is on vacation and could not be reached for comment. Her assistant, Amanda Rhodes, said the cemetery had no comment.
According to court documents, Ocasio banned members of the groups from using certain religious words such as “God” or “Jesus,” censored the content of prayer, and forbade the use of religious messages in burial rituals unless the deceased’s family submitted the text to her for prior approval.
Court documents also describe the closure of the cemetery’s chapel after Ocasio’s appointment as director two years ago.