Veterans Affairs Clarifies, Does Not Rescind Flag-Folding Policy

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a clarification of a policy limiting religious recitation at flag-folding ceremonies but some groups say they won't settle for anything less than a rescission.

In response to national outcry, the VA explained this past week that families of fallen veterans may still request for a 13-fold flag recitation to be read at military funeral ceremonies despite a memo distributed last month banning the posting of handouts on "The Meaning of Each Fold of an Honor Guard Funeral Flag."

"A family may request the recitation of words to accompany the meaningful presentation of the American flag as we honor the dedication and sacrifice of their loved ones," said William F. Tuerk, the VA's undersecretary for Memorial Affairs, in a statement Tuesday.

The clarification authorizes volunteer honor guards to read recitations at the flag-folding ceremony and requires that families not only request the recitation but also provide the material to be read.

But VA's revised statement did not sit well with the conservative American Center for Law and Justice, which argues that the clarification still does not address the fundamental problems contained in the Sept. 27 policy.

ACLJ representatives pointed out during a Thursday broadcast that the policy does not allow anyone other than a volunteer honor guard, such as a military chaplain, to read the recitation. Furthermore, families would no longer be able to receive the flyer informing them of such an option.

The D.C.-based Christian legal group is urging supporters to sign a petition demanding a rescission of the directive, which many have likened to a ban on the flag-folding ceremony.

"If you served in the military or if you are an American citizen you should be outraged," ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow told listeners Thursday on his radio show, Jay Sekulow Live! .

Another conservative legal group, Alliance Defense Fund, has also responded to the VA's policy by sending a letter Wednesday to the Department of Veterans Affairs offering constitutional analysis of the tradition of a flag-folding recitation.

During a military funeral, an American flag is folded 13 times into a triangular shape at the veteran's graveside. At each fold, different concepts including life, country, heart, and God are invoked.

It was the 11th fold, which when honoring Jewish veterans, makes a reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that provoked one person witnessing a ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California this summer to issue a complaint with the president of Veteran Affairs. The complaint prompted the memorandum in question.

"There is no need to prohibit VA-sponsored honor guards from continuing this tradition in honor of those who fought and gave their lives for the very constitutional freedoms now under attack by one so-called 'offended observer,'" said ADF Senior Counsel Joe Infranco in a statement Thursday.

The VA policy had sparked a national outrage. Dozens of lawmakers wrote to the VA demanding that it be rescinded while House members introduced a resolution Tuesday condemning a policy that would ban the recitations entirely.

Members of the American Legion also had flooded national headquarters since the decision.

Vice President Dick Cheney assured the American Legion Thursday that the flag-folding recitation will be allowed to continue.