Military Honor Guard

Of all the prohibitions against God in the public arena, perhaps none is as inappropriate as the one involving prayers at funeral services on government property. At no time is prayer a more comforting influence, yet bogus church/state concerns once again have swallowed the free exercise rights of participants. Patrick Cubbage, a fifty-four-year-old Vietnam combat veteran and retired Philadelphia policeman, worked as a military honor guardsman at Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in New Jersey. He had participated in some two thousand burial ceremonies. Whenever he got a chance-when the families were receptive-he said a blessing at the graveside services such as "God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America."

Cubbage said the families "were always grateful and sometimes very moved. People would even grip my hand and say things like 'Thank you so much."' Such unfailing gratitude wasn't enough to save Cubbage from his fate. His superiors terminated him for "departing from the standard presentation protocol," or so they said. They insisted that Cubbage wasn't dismissed for saying the blessings, but for not following the "standard phrase for each service." But Cubbage pointed out that the cemetery's pamphlet governing Flag Presentation Protocol permitted the blessings when the families approved.

Why was Cubbage fired? There were no objections from any of the families who received the blessings. But two of his fellow guardsmen reportedly complained to their supervisors, who ordered Cubbage to stop giving the blessings. When an incredulous Cubbage pointed to language in the manual permitting the blessings, his boss told him that the blessings could offend Jews and Muslims and should only be used when relatives notified the cemeteries in advance that they wanted a blessing. But no form was provided whereby a family can make such a request, and it's not something that many would think to bring up on their own. Besides, said Cubbage, "Jews and Muslims believe in God." The superior then handed Cubbage a copy of state regulations prohibiting "harassment or hostile environments" in the workplace.

But what on earth have such regulations to do with the matter at hand? The complaint was not that fellow employees were being harassed, but that families might be offended-and workplace harassment laws don't cover such situations. And the suggestion that families who expressed a preference for the blessing could be offended by it is absurd on its face. Nevertheless, the complaining employees prevailed. When they objected to blessings that families had chosen to receive-apparently because they (not the families) weren't tolerant of those blessings being administered-Cubbage was fired.

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