VA backs off, will let pastor say 'Jesus Christ'

May 27, 2011 3:35:39 PM PDT
A local pastor has had to fight for his right to use Jesus' name in a prayer. He's giving that invocation at a Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery. The cemetery said they wanted to include all religions, but one religion felt excluded, and a federal judge agreed.

Pastor Scott Rainey of the Living Word Church of the Nazarene was instructed to delete the words Jesus Christ from his prayer by officials at the Houston National Cemetery, a request Pastor Rainey fought in federal court on Friday.

He said, "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.' So it was an unrealistic expectation."

Federal Judge Lynn Hughes granted a temporary restraining order Thursday night to prevent cemetery officials from censoring Pastor Rainey's prayer. On Friday, attorneys for the US Department of Veterans Affairs changed their position in federal court after Judge Hughes acknowledged Pastor Rainey's right to pray uncensored.

Attorney Jeff Mateer said, "Clearly Judge Hughes is following the law. 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."

It was a private group who asked Pastor Rainey to give the invocation on Memorial Day, something Pastor Rainey has done for the past two years. He's said the words Jesus Christ without complaint from the cemetery. So why the attempt to censor this year? Cemetery officials would not answer our questions, instead issuing this statement:

    "Our national cemeteries are places for all veterans of all beliefs. We cannot be exclusive at a ceremony meant to be inclusive for all our nations veterans. Due to ongoing litigation, we cannot discuss this matter further." - Houston National Cemetery Director Arleen Ocasio

Elizabeth Rivera visits her grandmother's gravesite regularly. She believes the World War II navy veteran would have been against the censorship attempt.

"She would have thought it was absolutely absurd," Rivera said. "She was a very open woman and she believed in everyone's religions, but everybody had their own say."

Pastor Rainey will have his say in his invocation on Memorial Day as planned. He says he plans to use the words Jesus Christ as he always does in his prayers.

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