Reverse Religious Intolerance

Feb 11, 2003 01:49 PM EST

Someone recently e-mailed me a news story under a headline so preposterous I figured there had to be more to the story – and there was, but not much.

The headline from the Philadelphia Inquirer read: "Military Honor Guardsman Fired for Saying 'God bless you.'" Patrick Cubbage, a 54-year-old Vietnam combat veteran and retired Philadelphia policeman, worked as a military honor guardsman at the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in New Jersey.

Cubbage had participated in around 2,000 burial ceremonies. But in about 500 of them he said some naughty things to the families of deceased veterans at graveside services, such as, "God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America."

Cubbage said the families "were always grateful – and sometimes very moved. People would even grip my hand and say things like 'Thank you so much.'" But such unfailing gratitude wasn't enough to save Cubbage from his fate. The higher powers terminated him for "departing from the standard presentation protocol," or so they said. But was that truly the reason? Or could it be that some – and not the families of the deceased, mind you – didn't approve of this evangelical Christian's references to God?

The cemetery insisted Cubbage wasn't dismissed for saying the blessings, but for not following the "standard phrase for each service." Cubbage views it differently. He points to language in his copy of the cemetery's pamphlet covering Flag Presentation Protocol: "If the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief, add: 'God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America.'"

But here's the rub: Two of Cubbage's fellow guardsmen reportedly complained to their superiors, who ordered Cubbage to stop giving the blessings. Incredulous, Cubbage protested, "It's right in the manual." The superior replied that the blessing could offend Jews and Muslims, and should only be used when relatives notify the cemetery they want a blessing. When Cubbage responded, "Jews and Muslims believe in God," the superior handed him a copy of state regulations prohibiting "harassment or hostile environments" in the workplace. What?

I thought we were talking about the families, not fellow employees. So what the heck does harassment or hostile environments have to do with anything? And, if I may be impertinent, how can a benign allusion to God be construed as harassment or promoting a hostile environment?

Regardless, Cubbage complied and didn't give another blessing for several weeks, when he noticed a Christian symbol on the back of a car in an approaching funeral procession. He asked whether the family would mind if he said a blessing, and the driver replied, "Oh, they're very religious. I'm sure they'd welcome it."

He gave the blessing, during which the wheelchair-bound widow bowed her head. He was fired later that day after the other guardsmen "practically ran to the office" to report him. "I was in shock," said Cubbage. "I'm still in shock."

The cemetery is trying to characterize this as a case of disobedience, but its earlier statements betray the true reason for the firing: religious intolerance. Yes, I've said it. I'm deliberately using the phrase so often used against Christians as an excuse to suppress Christian expression.

There's no evidence that anyone but Cubbage's fellow employees had a problem with the blessings. What right do they have to impose their will on Cubbage and the grieving families? How can they reasonably claim they were offended over an innocuous blessing that didn't concern them, unless they don't believe Christians should be allowed to make God a part of such an intimate, solemn ceremony?

And don't tell me this has to do with the cemetery's concern that the government, through Cubbage, was endorsing a religion, as Veterans Affairs tried to say in a letter clarifying the policy. That's hogwash. The people wanted to receive the blessing!

More and more we're living in an Orwellian world where the oppressors are distorting language to accuse the oppressed of the very things they are doing to them. Here we have people accusing a Christian of offensive and hostile behavior as an excuse to be offensive and intolerant to him. Don't talk to me about harassment.

This time they picked on the wrong guy. Cubbage hasn't taken this sitting down. He hired the Rutherford Institute, which has already succeeded in securing an offer of re-employment for Cubbage – but only on the condition that he refrains from the blessings. Not good enough, says Cubbage. Good for him, and God bless him.

David Limbaugh, an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Mo., is the author of the pull-no-punches exposé of corruption in the Clinton-Reno Justice Department, "Absolute Power."

By David Limbaugh