Tuesday, May 31, 2011

VA Pastor Told to Remove Jesus' Name at Memorial Service or Else be Banned

Pastor Scott Rainey planned to deliver a prayer at a Memorial Day ceremony yesterday.  There was only one problem:  that prayer mentioned Jesus.

To the vast majority of Americans, saying the name Jesus during a prayer would not only be all right, but almost required. However, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Houston National Cemetery, and cemetery director Arleen Ocasio, found the name offensive and moved quickly.

“Our national cemeteries are places for all veterans of all beliefs,” Ocasio wrote in a letter to Mr. Rainey. “We cannot be exclusive at a ceremony meant to be inclusive for all our nation’s veterans.” She added that he had to remove the name of Jesus, "or he would not be allowed to pray."

She wrote in reference to the last line of Rainey's prayer: “in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.”

Rainey was shocked by the letter and Ocasio's demands. “I have never said a prayer in my life where I didn’t end it by saying ‘in the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen,’” he stated.

Mr. Rainey quickly got an attorney, Jeff Mateer, to defend his right to free speech.  Mr. Mateer stated:
“It is very clear that a pastor has a right as a private citizen to speak his mind freely and not have the government censor or edit the content of his speech.  Our veterans fought and many died for our religious freedom and to have it stripped away under the façade of inclusiveness is the height of offense to those who have served our country.”
In the short term, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes has ruled that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Houston National Cemetery cannot order Mr. Rainey to remove the name of Jesus from a religious ceremony.
Deemed Offensive
She wrote that such an order violated the First Amendment.

Yet there are lawyers out there who support the cemetery's actions. Attorney Geoff Berg stated, “Asking him to be more inclusive is exactly what she should do.  That’s the American way. This is a country without a specific religion.”

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