A Texas pastor who was told he could not pray in the name of Jesus during a Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery has been granted a temporary restraining order.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes issued the order preventing the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Houston National Cemetery from ordering Pastor Scott Rainey to remove the name of Jesus from his prayer. The judge ruled that such censorship violated the First Amendment.
"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, said Jeff Mateer, general counsel of the Liberty Institute and the attorney representing Rainey. "Our veterans fought and many died for our religious freedom and to have it stripped away under the façade of inclusiveness is the height of offense to those who have served our country."
Rainey, the pastor of Living Word Church of the Nazarene, has delivered prayers at the Memorial Day service for the past two years. But this year the cemetery's director asked him to submit his prayer in writing.
The prayer concluded with the words, "in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord."
"People should be very alarmed that the government was attempting to censor someone's private religious prayer," Liberty Institute attorney Erin Leu told Fox News Radio. "That violates the First Amendemnt and it's clearly unconstitutional."
Rainey told KRIV-TV that he was contacted four hours later by cemetery director Arleen Ocasio who told him to either remove the words or he would not be allowed to pray.
"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,'" Rainey told My Fox Houston.
Prior to the judge's ruling the cemetery director issued a statement explaining why she asked for a more inclusive prayer.
"Our national cemeteries are places for all veterans of all beliefs," she wrote. "We cannot be exclusive at a ceremony meant to be inclusive for all our nation's veterans."
At least one Houston attorney supported the cemetery's original decision.
"Asking him to be more inclusive is exactly what she should do," attorney Geoff Berg told My Fox Houston. "That's the American way. This is a country without a specific religion."