Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 10, 2013

Fact Check: Christian prayers prevented at military funerals? No


ForAmerica posted an image July 11, 2013, to its Facebook page with a claim about the Houston National Cemetery.

An image posted on Facebook by the conservative group ForAmerica says, “The Houston National Cemetery is preventing Christian prayers from being said at military funerals!”

ForAmerica, which according to its website is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Reston, Va., urges Facebookers to “like” the image “if you agree this is wrong!”

Well, turns out it is wrong — just not in the way ForAmerica meant.

“That’s an old story,” Houston National Cemetery director Mat Williams told us by phone. “We got a bunch of calls about that. But it’s not true.”

ForAmerica spokesman Keith Appell told us the image and an accompanying blog entry, posted July 11, 2013, were based on a item posted the day before on the conservative website and a July 9 report from the Family Research Council, a conservative, Christian group based in Washington, D.C.

The Breitbart item and the council’s report said that on July 26, 2011, U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, “determined that Houston National Cemetery was preventing Christian prayers from being said at military funerals.”

Such allegations about the 430-acre cemetery in northwest Houston resulted in legal action in 2011 that drew national attention, according to Houston Chronicle news stories from June 28, 2011, Sept. 22, 2011, and Dec. 12, 2011 and an Oct. 20, 2011, KHOU-TV news story.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes granted a temporary restraining order May 26, 2011, that allowed a pastor to deliver his Memorial Day invocation as written after the clergyman said then-director Arleen Ocasio told him not to say “Jesus Christ” in the service held at the cemetery, where nearly 70,000 service members and veterans and their spouses have been interred since its dedication in 1965.

Ocasio, according to a Aug. 30, 2011, New York Times news story, “began enforcing a little-noticed 2007 policy that prohibits volunteer honor guards from reading recitations — including religious ones — in their funeral rituals, unless families specifically request them.” U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs officials said the policy originated after “complaints about religious words or icons being inserted unrequested into veterans’ funerals,” the Times story said.

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