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National Cemetery Blocks Knights of Columbus from Hosting 'Religious' Memorial Day Service

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Officials at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery near Petersburg, Virginia have denied the Knights of Columbus a permit to hold its annual Memorial Day service in their cemetery citing that it has a new policy prohibiting "religious services" there. 

According to First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal group representing the Knights of Columbus, National Park Service officials are allowing other events to be held at the cemetery, but require the age-old tradition of hosting the annual Memorial Day mass to be held outside cemetery grounds. 

First Liberty sent a demand letter this week asking the Park Service to grant the Catholic fraternal service order its permit. 

"Our hope is that the National Park Service will immediately correct this error and grant the permit," said John Moran, attorney and partner at McGuire Woods. "This policy and the decision to block the Knights of Columbus from continuing their long-standing religious tradition is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act."

According to the letter, the Knights of Columbus has held a Memorial Day mass to honor and pray for the nation's fallen soldiers at Poplar Grove since the 1960s.

But last year, for the first time, the NPS denied the Knights a permit to hold the service in the cemetery, citing a new policy that designates "religious services" as prohibited "demonstrations."

Under the new policy, the group must hold its service outside cemetery grounds in a designated "free speech" zone even though other events may be held in the cemetery. 

First Liberty states that the new site is "not an adequate substitute" and denying the group's permit is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

"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," said Roger Byron, Senior Counsel at First Liberty.

First Liberty has asked park officials to grant the permit by May 17 or their "clients intend to take all appropriate steps to protect their rights, including through litigation."

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About The Author

Talia
Wise

Talia Wise has served as a multi-media producer for CBNNews.com, CBN Newswatch, The Prayer Link, and CBN News social media outlets. Prior to joining CBN News she worked for Fox Sports Florida producing and reporting. Talia earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.