Protesters rally to fire vet cemetery director

July 4, 2011 8:05:33 PM PDT
It's the Fourth of July and all across the nation people are turning out to celebrate America's independence. But there are some in Houston who say one of our guaranteed freedoms is still under fire.

A local congregation of pastors is calling for the removal of the director of Houston's National Cemetery because of what they call religious bigotry.

A crowd of more than a thousand gathers in the hemicycle of the Houston National Cemetery. And this rally, on the country's 235th birthday, ironically is about independence.

"Lack of religious freedom, lack of religious expression is not religious freedom; it is a form of tyranny unfortunately," protester Brett Meyer said.

The rally was born after a lawsuit and several complaints were filed against Houston National Cemetery Director Arleen Ocasio.

A local pastor got a restraining order against the cemetery after being told to edit "Jesus" from his prayer during the Memorial Day weekend. Other veteran groups complained after they too were told to refrain from using "God" or "Jesus" during funerals. They also allege Ocasio closed the chapel and turned it into a conference room.

"I brought my Bible, because I think it's important. I need to stand up for God. I need to stand up for Jesus Christ. Somebody's got to do it. I'm here," protester Nolan Connally said.

The director claims she was only trying to make prayers more inclusive of other religions but a backlash now has state and federal politicians calling for her to be fired.

"She needs to be terminated and so that's my opinion. I hope the Veterans Administration terminates her and gets someone in here that actually believes in the First Amendment," Congressman Ted Poe said.

"I just don't think that when you're in a position of public trust that she holds, that she represents the values of the people of this state and this country," Congressman Allen Fletcher said.

And many feel what's happening in Houston is part of a much larger issue across the country.

"There is very much and agenda to remove God and all types of Christian things from our nation," Connally said.

A nonprofit has also filed a lawsuit against the Veterans Administration and the Houston National Cemetery alleging "religious hostility" and "unlawful censorship."

Messages for director Ocasio were not returned.

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