The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs cannot stop a pastor from invoking the name of "Jesus Christ" in his Memorial Day prayer at Houston National Cemetery, a federal judge said Thursday.
Scott Rainey, lead pastor at the Living Word Church of the Nazarene, on Thursday filed a lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order against the VA and its director of the Houston National Cemetery from censoring his prayer reference to Jesus.
The suit argued that the government is unconstitutionally censoring his speech and engaging in religious viewpoint discrimination.
The judge hearing the case agreed with Rainey, granting his motion for the court to intercede.
"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," U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes wrote in his three-page order. "The right to free expression ranges from the dignity of Abraham Lincoln's speeches to Charlie Sheen's rants."
This coming Monday, Rainey will be able to recite his prayer in full during a Memorial Day service at the cemetery to honor fallen U.S. soldiers. This is the third year that the pastor has been asked by the National Cemetery Council for Greater Houston to give the invocation at the event.
In his prayer, Rainey will ask God to grant peace in the nations and to families of fallen soldiers and give wisdom to the nation's leaders.
The prayer will conclude with the Lord's Prayer and one reference to Jesus: "While respecting people of every faith today, it is in the name of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that I pray. Amen."
A month ago, the cemetery asked Rainey to submit a copy of his prayer for review. Cemetery director Arleen Ocasio told Rainey in an e-mail last week that he needed to edit his prayer. Rainey was also told on Wednesday that he if he didn't remove the Jesus reference then the prayer wouldn't be allowed.
Liberty Institute then filed the suit and motion for a temporary restraining order on behalf of Rainey on Thursday.
"Arleen Ocasio, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, and all those in concert with them are forbidden from dictating the content of speeches – whether those speeches are denominational prayers or otherwise – at the Memorial Day ceremony of National Cemetery Council for Greater Houston," Hughes wrote in his order.