Prayer banned from veterans’ funerals

“Conservatives should be adamant about the need for the reappearance of Judeo-Christianity in the public square.”
William F. Buckley Jr.

In late 2009, I demonstrated with a small group at the corner of Okeechobee Boulevard and State Road 7 in West Palm Beach. I recall one young lady there who fought to control a huge sign against the buffeting winds. Noting her struggle, I offered to take over for her for a while. She adamantly refused. Both her message and burden were personal to her. The sign proclaimed, “UNDER GOD, NOT UNDER GOV’T.”

Almost 400 years ago, the Pilgrims arrived on our shores seeking religious freedom, and that goal later became one of our nation’s cornerstones. The portion of the First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom is comprised of two parts. The Establishment Clause provides that there will be no state-sanctioned religion; the Free Exercise Clause provides that we may practice the religion of our choice.

Every session of Congress, beginning with the First Continental Congress in 1774, has opened with prayer. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court held in 1983 in Marsh v. Chambers that the Nebraska Legislature could begin its sessions with prayer using a chaplain paid by tax dollars because of the unique Judeo-Christian history of the United States. The term “separation of church and state” is mentioned nowhere in either the Constitution or its amendments. It’s actually a phrase lifted from aThomas Jefferson letter,  wherein he expressed something he envisioned in the future. It’s worth noting that the Jefferson letter was written 12 years after the First Amendment’s promulgation. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court later adopted the phrase, and the public has since picked up on it and now waves it like a banner of war.

In recent decades and while citing “separation of church and state,” religious clubs have been banned from public schools, Nativity scenes and menorahs have disappeared from the public square, and references to prayer have been removed from the minutes of public meetings. In the last couple of months, the “separation” battle finally reached the level of the “Theatre of the Absurd.”

Arleen Ocasio, director of the Houston National Cemetery,  with the approval of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, now bans not only graveside prayer at veterans’ funerals, but also the mere mention of God. A simple, “God bless you” to a grieving widow is verboten. What makes this particularly asinine is the fact that God is mentioned no fewer than five times in the VFW burial ritual. The matter is currently pending in the courts, which I pray will have more common sense than Ms. Ocasio.

Because no nation on Earth values life more than our own, we harbor the upmost honor and respect for our departed. For that reason, funerals are conducted for the benefit of the family and friends of the deceased, not to satisfy a cemetery director’s misplaced notion of political correctness. The desires, needs and values of the grieving family must always be paramount. To deny the deceased’s family the right to pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or to read from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, is to ignore life’s purpose and deny death’s reward.

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