Editorial on Houston VA Cemetery: A Family’s Wishes

VCS Agrees with New York Times: Keep Forced and Unwanted Religious Proselytizing Out of Our VA Cemeteries

September 7, 2011 (New York Times Editorial Board) – Four years ago, the Bush administration issued a regulation to protect families of veterans distressed by the intrusion of volunteer honor guards offering unsolicited prayers and recitations at national cemetery funeral rites.

The administration chose the only sensible course, directing that the family of the deceased — “and only they” — would identify any text to be read, not outside groups, however much they invoked God and country.

That regulation is being challenged in the Texas courts by some honor guards and a conservative legal group, the Liberty Institute. They have backed it up with a video and propaganda assault via the Internet against President Obama, not Mr. Bush. They claim, falsely, that the Obama administration has banned the mention of God and decreed “Jesus is not welcome” at veterans’ burials.

The truth is that all manner of ritual — from religious to secular — is being honored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, but only according to each family’s preference. Yet the lawsuit oddly invokes religious freedom in challenging the Houston National Cemetery’s attempt to follow policy.

The Veterans Affairs procedure under the regulation is to have funeral directors tell families that volunteer honor guards are available for services but that they are free to decline. Other veterans groups do not quarrel with this, as James Dao reported in The Times.

No one denies that honor guard volunteers, marching as dedicated veterans themselves, have offered great comfort to many families over the years. But the honor guards enjoy no claim to primacy at graveside. The wishes of a grieving family should never be overridden by outsiders, however well intentioned.

Additional Related Articles

July 9, 2011, VCS Letter to VA Secretary Shinseki denouncing Liberty Institute and Tea Party for interfering with the rights of veterans’ families.

August 30, 2011, New York Times article about religious extremists who want to force proselytizing, even against the wishes of family members, at the Houston VA cemetery.

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