Sunday, May 29, 2011

Federal Judge says National Cemetery can't prohibit Christian prayer at Memorial Day Event

Verne Strickland Blogmaster 
May 30, 2011

By Don Byrd / Baptist Joint Committee

When the Department of Veterans Affairs planned for its annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Houston National Cemetery, it naturally sought to include prayer for such a solemn event.

Just as naturally, it sought to keep the prayer non-sectarian. After all, soldiers of all faiths have given their lives in service to the country.  So, the cemetery director asked Pastor Scott Rainey not to include specific denominational mentions, to keep the invocation as open and inclusive as possible.

So, Rainey did what any self-respecting minister to all people would do when asked to consider the religious beliefs of his entire audience: he went to court. And a federal judge has now enjoined the VA from enforcing this non-sectarian standard, causing the government to back down entirely and allow the prayer to go on as planned.
Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs informed a federal judge in Houston May 27th the agency has reconsidered its position on religious-specific prayer at Houston National Cemetery, agreeing a pastor can utter “Jesus Christ” during his Memorial Day prayer.
“(The agency) will let the prayer go on this Monday,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Hindrichs told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes.
Complicating this story from a legal perspective is the fact that apparently the invocation is sponsored by a private group, though it will be held on hallowed public land. 

But from a human perspective, this is not complicated. Americans of all faiths - and those of no faith - are honored on Memorial Day. Their family and friends will be visiting cemeteries to mourn their loss and celebrate their life. 

And they deserve to hear an invocation solemnizing the event that does its best to speak to them, regardless of particular religious perspective. Any minister whose sensibilities are offended by that notion should think twice about accepting an invitation to pray at such an inclusive, multi-faith event as a community's Memorial Day service, whether a government agency demands it, or not. 

For what it's worth, Rainey's proposed prayer strikes a respectful tone to all, as he explains that it is delivered in Jesus' name. But Judge Hughes' decision would seem to open the door to all manner of prayer in the future that would not be so respectful. 

If the VA has no jurisdiction over the event, then that single-faith reality may be permissible - and clearly they have decided not to fight the ruling - but it is not okay.