Wednesday, October 31, 2007

VA Bans Religious Flag Ceremony


VA Bans Religious Flag Ceremony
Virginian-Pilot October 29, 2007

The Department of Veterans Affairs has told administrators of its 125 veterans cemeteries not to participate in a religion-laced recitation that sometimes accompanies the folding of the American flag at funerals.

The ban reportedly has outraged veterans' groups in California, where it came to light.

The administrator of the VA cemetery in Hampton said the recitation, which purports to describe the significance of each of the 13 folds of the flag, has never been part of ceremonies there.

"I had never heard of it until we got the instruction" from Washington to stop the recitation, said H.D. Hardamon, who runs the Hampton cemetery.

The recitation also is not part of funerals at the state-run Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery in Suffolk, said Dan Kemano, the cemetery's superintendent.

Kemano said he's heard the recitation at some private funeral services, but "we don't have it on our program."

He said about 500 funerals per year are conducted at the Suffolk cemetery and no one has asked for the flag recitation.

Slightly differing versions of the recitation appear on a variety of patriotic and military-oriented Web sites. Typically, it describes the first fold of the flag as a "symbol of life" and the second as a "symbol of our belief in eternal life."

Other folds are said to pay tribute to "womanhood," and "father." The 11th fold is said to glorify "the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" in the eyes of Jewish Americans and the 12th glorifies "God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost" to Christians.

Phil Budahn, a spokesman for the VA in Washington, said the agency received an objection to the script's religious references after it was used during a funeral at Riverside National Cemetery in California.

"It seemed inappropriate for federal employees to be the ones who actually read it," Budahn said, so the VA sent word last month to cemetery directors warning them against doing so.

The agency has does not object if families wish to choose a relative or friend of the deceased veteran to read the script as the flag is being folded, Budahn said.

The VA agrees that religious observances are an important part of a funeral service, he said. "It's just a question of who does them."

The Air Force in 2005 issued an approved but optional script without religious references for flag-folding ceremonies. The script is not used at funerals conducted by the Air Force, however; the flag is folded in silence at those services.

The approved Air Force script refers to the flag as "the symbol of our nation's unity, as well as a source of pride and inspiration for millions of citizens."

Dale Eisman, (703) 913-9872,

Flag Folds

These meanings, not part of the U.S. Flag Code, have been ascribed to the 13 folds of American flags at burial services for some veterans:
1. Symbol of life.

2. Symbol of our belief in the eternal life.

3. In honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.

4. Represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for his guidance.

5. A tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."

6. Represents where our hearts lie. It is with our hearts that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

7. A tribute to our armed forces.

8. A tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.

9. A tribute to womanhood.

10. A tribute to father.

11. In the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

12. In the eyes of Christian citizens, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost.

13. When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."

How do you feel about this issue?Let your public officials know how you feel.,13319,155003,00.html?

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