ARTICLE: Local veterans say the Department of Veterans Affairs is consistently censoring their prayers, banning them from saying the words “God,” and “Jesus” during funeral services at Houston National Cemetery. Three separate organizations have come forward complaining the cemetery’s director and other government officials are violating the First Amendment. Members from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies all complain of “religious hostility” at the cemetery. On Tuesday they told a federal judge what’s been going on there. “People are doing things out there that I feel like they shouldn’t be,” said Jim Rodgers, a Vietnam veteran. “We are private citizens in a private organization, and yet we are restricted from saying what our ritual calls for,” said John Spahr, Veterans of Foreign Wars. A 26-page complaint outlines the allegations. According to the court papers, the cemetery’s director, Arleen Ocasio, bans the word “God” and requires prayers to be submitted for government approval. “We were told we could no longer say “God bless you” and “God bless your family,” said Marilyn Koepp, a volunteer with the National Memorial Ladies. The group attends about 60 funerals a week to honor veterans and console families.Yesterday Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) called for the termination of Houston National Cemetery Director Arleen Ocasio.Your Houston News reported: Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02) on Wednesday, June 29, sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC, and issued the following statement in response to recent allegations regarding religious discrimination by the Director of the Houston National Cemetery: “I am deeply troubled by the allegations that were brought to my attention when I met with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in Houston,” said Poe. The director of the Houston National Cemetery, Arleen Ocasio, allegedly has engaged in aggressive hostile censorship of religion at the second largest cemetery for veterans in the United States. “The First Amendment is a sacred right of all Americans, especially those who have honorably served — and given their lives — in the name of protecting the United States. Denying their families their constitutional right to the free exercise of religious freedom is disgraceful and shows blatant disrespect for America’s veterans. If these allegations are true, I formally call for the termination of Arleen Ocasio as the director the Houston National Cemetery. This display of authoritarian behavior and religious discrimination should not be tolerated.” LIST OF ACCUSATIONS 1) Director Ocasio and other Cemetery Officials instructed Veterans of Foreign Wars District 4 to remove prayers from its burial rituals and to no longer utter remarks when handling the discharged shell cases from the rifle salute to the family of deceased veterans. 2) Cemetery Officials instructed American Legion Post 586 to remove prayers from its burial rituals. 3) Director Ocasio told the National Memorial Ladies that it could no longer include “God Bless” in its condolence cards or speak a religious message to veterans’ families. 4) Director Ocascio shut down the Cemetery chapel; it is now a “meeting facility.”
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Director Ocasio has already been successfully sued this year for religious discrimination. Obviously, she is not qualified to be the director of a National Cemetery and should step down.
Send an email to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki. Ask him to 1) stop his department's religious discrimination and 2) relieve Director Ocasio of her duties. Here's your link to send the e-mail. Takes only a minute. ~Faye
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