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Texas Legislators and Christian Groups Fight to Insert God Into Vets' Funerals -- Against Families' Wishes

Christian military groups are suing the VA to force families to include prayer during the burial services of veterans.

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Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF),  puts the narrative back on track by pointing out that “the true victims in this situation are the families who have lost loved ones, not the volunteers who want a government platform for their religious beliefs.” Moreover, though the blame for restricting religious influence may be targeted at the VA and the Obama administration because they cut less sympathetic figures than grieving relatives, it’s really the family members who make the individual decisions about whether to have a religious burial. It’s their rights that would be taken away if the VA was forced to change its policy. 

“Most people would agree that it is wrong for anyone to impose their religion on a veteran's family without their consent, especially during a deeply personal burial service,” the VA’s response statement continues, in a pointed jab at these meddling Christian groups. “Similarly, it is wrong not to respect a family’s request for a religious service. VA’s policy is in place to protect families – whatever their choice. Out of respect for the families, VA’s policy exists to prevent anyone from disrespecting or interfering with a veteran’s private committal service.”

What’s Your God Doing in My Government?  

The groups and congressmen fighting to force God on all military funerals not only disrespect atheist servicemembers, they also stomp all over separation of church and state. “As an atheist and as a soldier, I care deeply about our Constitution being subverted like this,” Justin Griffith writes at the American Atheist blog. “I am shocked that Texas’ U.S. Reps are attempting to ensure that my funeral is going to feature a state-sponsored Christian message.”

It shouldn’t be too surprising, though: Griffith points out that Rep. Culberson previously co-sponsored legislation to allow teacher- and coach-led prayer to indoctrinate students in public schools. So this is nothing out of character for the congressman from Texas.

The post concludes: “Some politicians want to sneak religion into government, and they want to do it at my funeral on your dime.”

Griffith could not be reached by phone for further comment because he’s currently deployed on active duty. But Kathleen Johnson, former military director and now vice president of American Atheists, did have something more to say.

Johnson, a veteran who works in Texas, laments that when the issue of imposing prayer on military funerals has come up, the “knee-jerk reaction” has been to side with the Christian groups. She credits their success in selling an utterly deceptive framing for this response. “These Texas congressmen are sort of leading this charge in the publicity effort to frame this as a religious discrimination issue in which Christians are being discriminated against,” Johnson commented, “when it’s actually a religious discrimination issue in which everybody else is being discriminated against.”

Both American Atheists and MAAF stated that they have no problem with religion being included in military funerals at the behest of the family. “Full freedom if the family asks,” says MAAF’s Jason Torpy. “That should be it, end of discussion.” In the absence of family preference, however, the government must not cross the line into promoting religion. 

Torpy points out that while the default is always that government speech is secular, the congressmen and groups bringing the lawsuit want religious underpinnings to be the default for all official services. He also rejects the claim that banning unwanted religion violates the free speech rights of the Christian groups’ volunteers. The Constitutional principle in jeopardy is separation of church and state: Torpy argues that volunteers’ speech becomes government speech when they decide to participate in the official service, and as such is beholden to the restrictions thereof. 

 
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