A federal judge in Texas has told the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs that it cannot censor a pastor's invocation at a Memorial Day ceremony.
The VA had ordered the Rev. Scott Rainey to remove a phrase using Jesus Christ from the prayer, arguing the line excluded other beliefs held by veterans, KHOU-TV in Houston reported.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes disagreed, writing the government cannot "gag citizens when it says it is in the interest of national security, and it cannot do it in some bureaucrat's notion of cultural homogeneity," according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
The debate centered over the close of the prayer, which read: "While respecting people of every faith today, it is in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that I pray. Amen."
Rainey has given the invocation for the ceremony at the Houston National Cemetery for two years. This year he was asked to submit the prayer in advance for review.
Cemetery director Arleen Ocasio e-mailed Rainey on May 19 and said that while the prayer was well-written, "the tone of all messages must be inclusive," the Chronicle reported.
Rainey, backed by attorneys from the Liberty Institute, which calls itself "a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting freedoms and strengthening families," asked the federal court for a restraining order. They argued the government cannot stifle private speech on public land.
According to the Chronicle, Ocasio didn't comment and issued a 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 nation's veterans. Due to ongoing litigation, we cannot discuss this matter further," Ocasio wrote.