Veterans Cemetery Aide Fired for Invoking God

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellen Sorokin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Vietnam combat veteran was fired from his job as an honor guardsman at a New Jersey veterans cemetery after he said the phrase "God bless you and this family" during a burial service last fall.

Patrick Cubbage, 54, of Philadelphia, says his supervisor told him

not to offer the religious blessing because it might offend families who are not Christian. Mr. Cubbage, who is an evangelical Christian, insists that he was operating within the federal rules for honor guards and is challenging his dismissal.

"We're one nation under God," Mr. Cubbage said. "You're going to tell me millions and millions of people can't have God present with them because one person might be offended? That's ludicrous."

Mr. Cubbage's attorney, John Whitehead, president of the Virginia-based Rutherford Institute, said the situation is nothing more than "political correctness run amok."

"Mr. Cubbage got fired for saying the same words President Bush said in his address about the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia," said Mr. Whitehead, whose institute is an international, nonprofit civil liberties organization. "Patrick Cubbage was terminated for following U.S. Department of Defense protocol. He did nothing wrong."

Mr. Whitehead said he plans to discuss a settlement with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs but would not give details of what Mr. Cubbage is seeking.

Officials at the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs did not return calls seeking comment. But Lt. Col. Roberta Niedt, a spokesman for the department, told the Philadelphia Inquirer last month that the cemetery has a "standard phrase [for the flag presentation] for each service."

She said Mr. Cubbage was dismissed for deviating from the standard presentation protocol, not for saying the blessing.

Pentagon officials said they had heard about Mr. Cubbage's firing, but they said the Defense Department has not gotten involved in the case because it is a state matter.

Officials with the Military District of Washington, which oversees Arlington National Cemetery, said a chaplain, not an honor guardsman, offers a religious blessing at the Arlington burials.

According to a 1986 field manual on Drill and Ceremonies, the following phrase should be said when an honor guardsman presents the flag to the grieving family:

"The presenter uses an expression similar to that which has become standard at Army Funerals: 'This flag is presented on behalf of a grateful nation, as a token of our appreciation for the honorable and faithful service rendered by your loved one. …