Houston VA cemetery director leaving post after fallout

December 13, 2011 4:45:21 PM PST
The director of the Houston National Cemetery is transferring to another job after being accused of banning religious speech.

We told you about the ordeal involving Arleen Ocasio earlier this year. Several veterans groups sued the Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming religious discrimination at the cemetery in north Houston.

As veterans paid tribute during a ceremony at the Houston National Cemetery, hundreds of yards away, two sisters paid respect to their parents.

"I think of our mom and dad, they are both buried here and how Christmas was so special, particularly to our mom," cemetery visitor Cheryl Rowland said.

The mood is somber and quiet, compared to the uproar this summer when thousands gathered last July Fourth at a rally calling for the ouster of Ocasio. Complaints, even a lawsuit, were filed after the director allegedly called for the words "God" and "Jesus Christ" to be removed from services at the cemetery.

A judge sided with the veterans and pastor, allowing the words to remain.

"To remove any reference to Jesus Christ, I think is wrong. I think it's important to recognize all religions, be tolerant of any religions. But to exclude that wording, I think is absolutely wrong," Rowland said.

Now director Ocasio has moved on.

"The only thing I can say, good luck," said Commissioner Gus Sivcoski with the Ceremonial Team District 4.

Six months after a local pastor filed a federal lawsuit against the cemetery, Ocasio, a representative there tells us, has been transferred.

Despite tough talk at last summer's rally, visitors today say a difference of opinion doesn't mean the director had to go.

"I think she should have stayed. I think she should have just accepted she had her opinion. He settled it another way with the courts and he won. If she didn't like it, she could have just quit," cemetery visitor Pat Menard said.

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