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Federal government backs down, allows Virginia Knights to hold annual Memorial Day Mass 

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A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass on Monday, May 27, 2024, in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance. / Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CNA Staff, May 23, 2024 / 14:38 pm (CNA).

A Virginia council of the Knights of Columbus will be permitted to hold its annual Memorial Day Mass in a federal cemetery after the National Park Service (NPS) backed down and allowed the group to hold the observance.

Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 had filed a temporary restraining order against NPS after the park service forbade the council from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass at Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

First Liberty Institute, which represented the Knights in the dispute, said in a press release this week that the fraternal organization has “held the service at the park every year since at least the 1960s.”

The filing, made in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, said NPS decided in 2023 that the annual Mass, held at the cemetery within Petersburg National Battlefield, “would henceforth be categorized as a prohibited ‘demonstration’ under NPS regulations because it is a ‘religious service.’”

Yet on Thursday afternoon, First Liberty Institute said in a press release that the Knights would be permitted to hold the Mass on Monday as planned.

NPS “has granted a permit … allowing the Knights’ annual Memorial Day Mass service” on Monday, the organization said.

“We are grateful to the NPS for allowing the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day,” John Moran, a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods, said in the statement. 

Roger Byron, a senior counsel at First Liberty, said that the Knights “are thrilled that they will be able to exercise their religious beliefs and keep this honorable tradition alive.”  

“We appreciate the tremendous support of Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin and Attorney General [Jason] Miyares in this case,” Byron said. 

Park service officials had earlier said the Knights could hold the Mass “outside the cemetery on a patch of grass near the parking lot,” which the Knights’ filing said was “unreasonable, unnecessary, and unconstitutional.”

The Knights said the park service was “misapplying its own regulations” and “unlawfully infringing on the Knights’ First Amendment rights.” The filing said the federal government was also violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a 1993-era law that places strict rules on how the government may infringe on a person’s religious liberty. 

Officials with the National Park Service also did not respond to a query on the suit on Thursday. 

Byron had said earlier this week that the park service was “way out of line.”  

“This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent,” Byron said.


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