For years Pastor Scott Rainey has participated in a Memorial Day prayer service at the Houston National Cemetery, which is administered by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Rainey has always prayed in the name of Jesus Christ, which should be no surprise coming from a Christian pastor. After all, Buddhist priests offer Buddhist prayers, Muslim imams offer Muslim prayers, and [insert faith here] clergymen offer [insert faith here] prayers.
As the 2011 Memorial Day prayer service approached, one of the event’s organizers invited Rainey to deliver a prayer as usual. But this year the cemetery’s director, Chicago native Arleen Ocasio, decided to stick her nose into the prayer service. She asked the organizer to forward Rainey’s prayer to her ahead of time for approval. The organizer, being a helpful sort of person, did so.
After reading Rainey’s prayer, Ocasio decided that she’d had just about enough of those icky Christians and their explicitly Christian prayers:
Veterans in Houston say the Department of Veterans Affairs is consistently censoring their prayers by banning them from saying the words “God” and “Jesus” during funeral services at Houston National Cemetery.
Three organizations — the Veterans of Foreign Wars, The American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies — allege that the cemetery’s director and other government officials have created “religious hostility” at the cemetery and are violating the First Amendment. According to court documents filed this week in federal court, the cemetery’s director, Arleen Ocasio, has banned saying “God” at funerals and requires prayers be submitted in advance for government approval, MyFoxHouston.com reports.
At about 1:30 this afternoon I called the cemetery at (281) 447-8686 to ask if the reports were accurate. The man who answered the phone — who did not want to give his name — issued a blanket denial and insisted that the cemetery’s policy was to not restrict any religious activity whatsoever. Keep that denial in mind as you read, because I did some simple research that proves he’s either ignorant or lying. Ocasio herself is out of the office until July 5th, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be calling her that day to ask for comment.
Pastor Rainey, the VFW, The American Legion and the National Memorial Ladies, with the help of The Liberty Institute, promptly filed a federal civil rights suit against the V.A. and against Ocasio personally (not in her official capacity as cemetery director, so she and her bank account are on the hook). Rainey and friends have so far won a temporary restraining order against the ban on Christian prayer.
The lawsuit, SCOTT RAINEY vs. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS and ARLEEN OCASIO, is currently active in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Ocasio asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit for mootness because Rainey was eventually allowed to offer his prayer at the service, but she failed miserably. I’ll post Ocasio’s pathetic attempt to “un-ring the bell” and the Liberty Institute’s sharp reply later.
Members of the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives have begun pushing for more information, and some want Ocasio fired.
Here are the e-mails that kicked over the anthill. I found them with a cursory search through the online court records. First, we have Pastor Rainey’s e-mail forwarding his prayer to the event organizer:
From: Scott Rainey [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2011 10:27 AM
To: Stone, Evelyn
Subject: Memorial Day Prayer
Attached is my written prayer for Memorial Day. Thank you for the honor of letting me pray.
The event organizer forwarded Rainey’s prayer to Ocasio, as Ocasio had requested:
From: Stone, Evelyn [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2011 10:32 AM
To: Ocasio, Arleen
Subject: FW: Memorial Day Prayer
HERE IS PASTOR SCOTT RAINEY’S PRAYER.
EVELYN L STONE
WILSON A SCHLUMBERGER COMPANY 1302 CONTI ST. HOUSTON, TEXAS 77002, USA TEL: 281-375-7675 FAX: 281-375-2654 MAIN: 713-237-3700
Here was Ocasio’s reply:
From: “Ocasio, Arleen” <Arleen.Ocasio@va.gov>
Cc: “Reyes, Jackie” <Jackie.Powledge@va.gov>, “Stone, Evelyn” <email@example.com>
Subject: FW: Memorial Day Prayer
Date: Thu, 19 May 2011 14:26:23 -0400
Thank you for accepting to participate in our Memorial Day Program. I have reviewed your attached Memorial Day Prayer/Message, while it is very well written I must ask you to edit it.
The above prayer/message is specific to one belief. As you know, on Memorial Day we will be commemorating veterans from all cultures and religious beliefs. The tone of all messages must be inclusive of all beliefs, need to be general, and its fundamental purpose should be specific to those we are honoring, and non-‐denominational in nature.
Pastor Gantz from the Living Word Church of Nazarene is scheduled to provide the Benediction for the Memorial Day Program. If you have his contact number and email, I would appreciate it as I will need him to provide me with a copy of his Benediction for review.
Thank you again for your participation.
Remember the unidentified man answering the phone at the cemetery, who denied that Ocasio or the cemetery had any sort of anti-Christian policy?
Keep your eye on Ocasio. She has a habit of discriminating against Christians. Although this is a sad state of affairs, it shouldn’t be surprising to any follower of Jesus Christ. As our Lord memorably said:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, “THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.”
Stay tuned. I’ll have more on this by Tuesday, when Ocasio gets back to her office.