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Knights of Columbus Sues National Park Service for Denying Permit to Hold Mass in Virginia National Cemetery

A Virginia chapter of the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus has filed suit after the National Park Service denied its application to hold a Memorial Day mass at a national cemetery in Petersburg.

The organization says it has held its mass at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery for more than 60 years but was told last year that new policies prevented religious services from being held in national cemeteries, WWBT reported.

The organization’s attorney did not say why they waited a year to file the lawsuit, but he did say that the policy is not new and has not been enforced for the Knights of Columbus since it was put into place by the Ronald Reagan administration in 1986.

Attorney Roger Byron claimed the park service “would actually help them with their event” until now. The park service declined to comment on ongoing litigation

The regulation in question prohibits special events or demonstrations “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.”

A memorandum from the NPS director said that the regulation was designed in 1986 to maintain “a protected atmosphere in national cemeteries where individucals can quietly contemplate and reflect upon the significance of the contributions made to the nation by those interred.” It said that a limited number of official commemorative events “on a very limited number of occasions constitue the maximu extent that this protected atmosphere should be disturbed.”

The park service also noted that there were “ample opportunities” for people to conduct special events outside officials ones “in areas adjacent to or near the national cemeteries.”

The lawsuit claims the park service is violating the religious organization’s constitutional rights. A judge in Virginia is expected to hear the Knights of Columbus case on Thursday.