VA clarifies rules for flag-folding ceremonies
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Veterans Affairs Department moved Tuesday to clarify a directive limiting the use of a religious recitation at flag-folding ceremonies after it sparked an uproar among some veterans and Republican House members.
In a memo last month to directors of the agency’s 125 cemeteries, a senior VA official said they should not distribute or post nongovernment handouts on “The Meaning of Each Fold of an Honor Guard Funeral Flag.”
The memo said the handout and its religious references shouldn’t be used as a script at committal services unless the next-of-kin requests it.
House members introduced a resolution Tuesday condemning a policy that would ban the recitations entirely, and dozens of lawmakers wrote to the VA demanding that it be rescinded.
“The VA is being manipulated by out-of-control secularists,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif.
The VA contended it was simply clarifying its policy. The recital in question is not part of the official Defense Department interment ceremony and should be read only on request from a family member, said VA spokeswoman Lisette Mondello.
At issue is the “13-fold recital” sometimes read by members of an honor guard as an American flag is folded at a veteran’s graveside.
At each fold of the flag concepts including life, country and heart are invoked, as well as God. There are separate references to the Jewish God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to the Christian trinity.
It was the 11th fold, which when honoring Jewish veterans, makes a reference to the God of Abraham, that provoked a complaint this summer by someone who witnessed the ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery in Southern California, said Mondello.
The complaint focused not on the content of the recital but on an error in the text used by cemetery volunteers which identified Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as gods, Mondello said.
The complaint prompted the VA to focus on the recital and determine that it shouldn’t be used by VA employees or honor guard volunteers from the American Legion or other veterans organizations unless specifically requested by family members. Mondello stressed that honor guards would also honor requests from families of any religion to recite texts of their choosing.
“The key is that the family has to request this and we would acquiesce to any family’s particular religious views and/or traditions,” Mondello said. “I would describe it as a clarification of a policy so that we make sure that everyone throughout our system knows that there is consistency.”
The policy was not clear to lawmakers Tuesday who interpreted comments from VA officials to mean the 13-fold recital could no longer be recited at all by cemetery workers or volunteers.