AUSTIN — I can only imagine what my dad or grandpa - both interred at the Houston National Cemetery - would have to say about the current federal bureaucrat in charge of censoring prayers at those hallowed grounds.
A lawsuit filed by a Houston minister contends the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery director required preapproval of a Memorial Day prayer. Invocation of Jesus' name, the minister was told, was not allowed.
I think dad and grandpa would be mad as hell, though, as many Houston-area veterans are today. They never forgot the oath each of us took when we enlisted.
Any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine joining the United States Armed Forces solemnly swears "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
My grandpa, who served in the Navy during World War I and the Army in World War II, took that oath. My dad, a pilot in World War II and Korea, did as well. I took that oath before I went to Vietnam as a young Marine. My son took the very same oath before he served two tours in Iraq piloting a Marine attack helicopter.
Would the oath of enlistment pass muster at Houston National Cemetery? Apparently not.
Veterans gathering to protest in Houston know this is not the first misguided slur against those who served by those who are simpleminded enough to think our Constitution mandates the "separation of church and state." Despite what some think, those words are nowhere to be found in the Constitution.
What our Constitution's First Amendment does say is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." How do those words mandate banishing any reference to God from a veterans cemetery? Our Constitution guarantees that Americans have freedom to worship in the faith of their choice, or not worship at all. It also prohibits the government from establishing an official state religion. No more, no less.
All too often, veterans groups are forced to hire lawyers to defend the constitutional rights for which we fought. In California, for example, veterans have battled in court for decades to keep politically correct activists from tearing down the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross.
Texas veterans demand better. As a veteran and chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, I assure you this insult will never occur on my watch at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery system. No prayers of any kind are censored at the Texas State Veterans Cemeteries in Killeen, Abilene, Mission or at the soon-to-be-completed facility at Corpus Christi.
Veterans swore an oath to defend our Constitution. We understand the rights guaranteed to us under it. We will fight to defend those rights every time - be it on foreign shores or in a politically correct federal bureaucracy. So help me God.
JERRY PATTERSON was re-elected to a third term as Texas Land Commissioner in 2010 and chairs the Texas Veterans Land Board, which provides low-interest land/home loans, veterans long-term care facilities, and state cemeteries for Texas veterans. He is a retired U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and former state senator.