May 23, 2024

Knights of Columbus sues Biden administration over Memorial Day mass

The Knights of Columbus sued the Biden administration on Tuesday asking for a temporary restraining order that would allow the group to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass in a national cemetery after its permit to do so was denied for the second year in a row.

The Catholic group asked for an emergency temporary injunction against the National Park Service (NPS) in Petersburg, Virginia due to its refusal to grant a permit for Poplar Grove National Cemetary.

The group has held a mass there on Memorial Day for the past 60 years and wants to continue the tradition.OK

It blames a policy change last year for the refusal, while the NTS claims it is just enforcing a long-held rule.

Religious services prohibited

"The policy and the decision blocking 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 (RFRA)," McGuireWoods partner John Moran said in a press release on behalf of the Knights.

"We urge the court to grant our restraining order and allow the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day," he added.

But a Petersburg official defended the refusal.

"National Cemeteries are established as national shrines in tribute to those who have died in service to our country, and as such any special activities within the cemetery are reserved for a limited set of official commemorative activities that have a connection to military service or have a historic and commemorative significance for the particular national cemetery," Alexa Viets, superintendent of the Petersburg National Battlefield, told the Washington Times in a statement.

The park's website says religious services have been classified as demonstrations since 1986 and are prohibited, even though the group has been allowed to hold the mass for 60 years until last year.

"Conducting a special event or demonstration, whether spontaneous or organized, is prohibited except for official commemorative events conducted for Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other dates designated by the superintendent as having special historic and commemorative significance to a particular national cemetery. Committal services are excluded from this restriction," the rules say.

"Out of line"

"The National Park Service is way out of line," First Liberty senior counsel Roger Byron said in a statement. "This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent. Hopefully, the court will grant the Knights the relief they need to keep this honorable tradition alive."

A court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in the case.

Petersburg is just outside of Richmond.

President Joe Biden is a longtime Catholic, but has not weighed in on the case.

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