Veterans BANNED from saying 'God' or 'Jesus' at military funerals
By John Stevens
Last updated at 8:13 PM on 30th June 2011
Veteran groups are taking legal action after they say they were banned from saying the words 'God' and 'Jesus' during funeral services at the Houston National Cemetery.
Three veterans organisations are to take the Department of Veteran Affairs to court over claims that they have censored prayers and demanded that words be submitted in advance for government approval.
Cemetery officials ordered volunteers to stop telling families 'God bless you' at funeral and said that the words 'God bless' had to be removed from condolence cards, according to court documents filed this week in federal court.
Challenge: Veterans are taking the government to court over the ban on the words 'God' and 'Jesus' at military funerals
The groups, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies, said that officials have created 'religious hostility' and are violating the First Amendment.
'The hostile and discriminatory actions by the Veterans Affairs officials in Houston are outrageous, unconstitutional and must stop,' said lawyer Jeff Mateer, who is representing the groups.
Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston National Memorial Ladies, said: 'It's just unfair that somebody would ask us to take God out of our vocabulary,
'I could've kept my mouth shut and let things happen, but when it comes to standing up for your belief in God and giving comfort to the families, I don't want to regret not saying anything,' she told the Houston Chronicle.
Ban: Three veterans organisations are to take the government court over claims that they have been stopped from saying 'God' and 'Jesus'
'We all had to stand up for what we believe in.'
Marilyn Koepp, another volunteer, said: 'We were told we could no longer say "God bless you" and "God bless your family".'
'How did I feel? I probably shouldn't say how I felt because it was absolutely appalling that this woman would come aboard and tell us we cannot say "God bless you",' she told Fox Houston.
A Texas congressman has called for an investigation into what he calls 'anti-Christian' decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
'The federal government should not have a policy of being anti-religious especially at a religious ceremony - a burial of one of our veterans,' representative Ted Poe.
Volunteer: Marilyn Koepp said, 'We were told we could no longer say "God bless you" and "God bless your family".'
'Congress has got to get involved and change the anti-Christian, anti-religion philosophy in the Veteran's Administration.'
The Department of Veterans Affairs said that it 'respects every veteran and their family's right to burial service that honors their faith tradition.'
It said that employs nearly 1,000 chaplains who preside over religious burials.
The government until July 15 to respond to the allegations and before a hearing on July 21.