Following charges of religious discrimination and censorship at the National Cemetery in Houston, the Department of Veterans Affairs has filed a response disputing the allegation that officials barred volunteers from using religious language at burial ceremonies. The 21-page reply emphasizes VA policy that all burial ceremonies are to respect the family's wishes with respect to the inclusion or exclusion of religious text. Volunteers are trained not to insert their own religious beliefs in lieu of the family's request.

The Guidelines seek to ensure that the religious preferences, if any, of families of deceased Veterans are fully respected, and they specifically say that the honor guards may read scripture or a brief prayer if the family makes such a request to the honor guard team and the family does not provide its own clergy…

The Guidelines ¶ 7 reflect that committal services are private in nature and VA volunteer honor guards must respect the wishes and religious preferences of the families of deceased Veterans. If a family decides that it only wants to have clergy provide the service, which includes a reading of scripture and prayer, the family’s preference should be respected.

…At Houston National Cemetery, the Guidelines ¶ 8.b. permits Plaintiffs to read religious recitations at private committal services if the family of a deceased Veteran so chooses. Defendants believe that it should be the family’s choice and decision what to have read in accordance with their faith tradition, if any, because it would be improper for others to impose their own religious preferences on a Veteran’s family, especially during this meaningful event.

For more, see Lindsay Wise's coverage at the Houston Chronicle.