(RNS) Members of Congress and Christian leaders say they are outraged over claims that a Veterans Affairs official in Houston discriminates against clergy and veterans’ families who want to use religious references in memorial ceremonies.
The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based legal group, this week expanded its lawsuit against the VA, claiming that officials told veterans’ groups that prayers need to be submitted for approval by a Houston VA executive.
Lawyers from Liberty initially filed suit after Arleen Ocasio, director of the Houston National Cemetery, asked Pastor Scott Rainey of Houston to “edit” a Memorial Day ceremony prayer that concluded in Jesus’ name.
A judge granted a temporary restraining order that allowed Rainey to pray as he wished.
The American Family Association has asked its members to write to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to demand Ocasio’s removal. A coalition of Houston pastors plans a July 4 rally to seek her dismissal.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, wrote to Shinseki Wednesday (June 29) asking that Ocasio be fired if an investigation shows the claims against her are true.
Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, whose father is buried at a VA national cemetery, said in a statement that “all faiths should have the freedom to honor our veterans and it is unacceptable for the government to try to deny that right.”
VA officials said the uses of “God” and “Jesus” are commonplace at graveside ceremonies, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“VA values and respects every veteran and their family’s right to a burial service that honors their faith tradition,” Keith Ethridge, director of VA’s National Chaplain Center, said in a statement.
Ocasio did not respond to the newspaper’s requests for comment.