Bogus defense of vets’ religious liberty

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Here’s what’s claimed by an outfit called the Liberty Institute:

Obama administration-backed officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs and the Houston National Cemetery are continuing to deny the
use of Christian words or phrases at veterans’ funerals. Stated simply,
Jesus is not welcome at gravesides. Even VFW honor guards are no longer
able to say, “God bless you,” part of their traditional ritual.

As James Dao’s NYT piece makes clear, this is baloney. A Bush administration regulation requires that the bereaved family ask for religious language when volunteer honor guards assist at the graveside ceremony at one of the country’s national cemeteries. But it seems as though the VFW in Houston has a particular script it likes its guards to read, and so has its nose out of joint because the new cemetery director has interpreted the reg as forbidding it unless the family specifically requests a religious invocation.

If this were really about the right of families to have a religious service, as the Liberty Institute implies, then there would be no problem resolving the dispute out of court, given the demonstrated sensitivity of current Defense Department lawyers to religious convictions. Stated simply, it’s clear that under the regulation, if the family wants Jesus at the graveside of their loved one, then Jesus is welcome there.

What’s not clear, however, is that the plaintiffs actually care about protecting the religious liberty of the bereaved, as opposed to wanting to establish the right of the volunteer guards to invoke God (the script doesn’t mention Jesus) if they like–and to make trouble for the Obama administration. The real tension here is between an administrator anxious to assure that religious language is not imposed on families who don’t want it and pious patriots eager to raise their own sacred umbrella over the nation’s military.