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VA to Settle Religious Censorship Lawsuit

Back in June, I expressed dismay over the alleged actions of Arleen Ocasio, the Houston, Texas cemetery director who was accused of religious censorship. I don't care what a person's religious preference is, or if they are non-believers, but I did object to a stranger making decisions about funeral services for military veterans whom she doesn't even know. This week brought news that the Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to settle a lawsuit over this matter.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to settle a lawsuit over allegations of religious censorship at Houston National Cemetery, according to documents filed in federal court Thursday.

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Under the settlement, VA would agree "not to ban, regulate or otherwise interfere with prayers, recitations, or words of religious expression absent family objection" and to allow veterans' families to hold services with any religious or secular content they desire.

VA also agrees not to edit or control private religious speech by speakers at VA-sponsored ceremonies or events and pledges to return a Bible, cross and Star of David to the cemetery's chapel, which must remain open and not be used for storage or referred to as a meeting facility.

So far, so good. But then comes this little nugget:
The documents state that VA will pay attorneys fees and expenses of $215,000, but the government admits no liability or fault, and stresses that some provisions of the agreement already were policy or practice at the department.
The VA contends it was never their policy to ban words like "God" and "Jesus," or otherwise interfere with memorial services for veterans. According to the story, there is no mention of Arleen Ocasio's status in the settlement. But if we take the VA at their word that they did not have a policy of religious censorship and if the complaints which led to the lawsuit were valid, we could reasonably conclude that Ms. Ocasio overstepped her boundaries.

Money is tight these days and even in golden times, I'm sure the VA could use that $215,000 to, oh, I don't know - help our veterans. This never should have happened to begin with. If it had not, a lawsuit wouldn't have resulted and that $215,000 could have been put to better use. What a shame!

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