Federal Officials Prohibit Faith-Based Memorial Day Service

National Park Service officials announced that “religious” events planned for Memorial Day at Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia, are prohibited.

The Knights of Columbus Council 694 have held a Memorial Day Mass service in the cemetery since at least the 1960s.

Legal group First Liberty Institute sent a letter to federal officials, saying the ban on the group’s religious service is a “blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

“Until last year, the National Park Service (NPS) always granted the Knights permission to hold the mass within the cemetery, and the mass or a prayer service (when a priest was not available) had been celebrated there annually without incident,” the letter explains.

In 2023, the NPS prohibited religious services. NPS “invoked the policy again this year as justification for denying the Knights a permit to hold this year’s service in the cemetery,” First Liberty Institute noted.

“There is no reason under NPS regulations or Policy Memorandum 22-01 to deny the Knights a permit to hold the service within the cemetery. Indeed, even since the adoption of Policy Memorandum 22-01, the Park Service has authorized Memorial Day masses in other National Cemeteries,” the letter adds.

Roger Byron, First Liberty’s Senior counsel, said, “Due to the religious nature of the Knights’ annual service to honor and pray for the nation’s fallen soldiers, they have been assigned a second class status and relegated to the proverbial back of the bus. That is precisely the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship the First Amendment was enacted to prevent. Surely this decision was an oversight.”

Petersburg National Battlefield superintendent Alexa Viets said in a statement to The Washington Times, “The National Park Service recognizes and respects the First Amendment rights of individuals and groups to express their views and assemble in designated park areas. We are currently reviewing a permit request for the Knights of Columbus Memorial Day Service.”

According to the outlet, the NPS’s policy on “demonstrations” involving a “religious service” was implemented in 1986, although it appears the rule has been more strictly enforced in recent years than in the past.