Amid heavy public pressure and under threat of a lawsuit, officials with the state of New Jersey offered an honor guardsman who was fired for saying “God Bless America” his job back but under conditions deemed “insulting” by the guardsman, including the apparent condition that he no longer offer the blessing.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Vietnam combat veteran Patrick Cubbage maintains he was sacked for invoking the name of God during grave-side burial services for deceased veterans.
“God bless you and this family, and God bless the United States of America,” the evangelical Christian used to say as he presented a folded flag to the fallen veteran’s family.
Cubbage believes he was only following orders and cited the federal flag presentation protocol detailed in training literature he was given when he began working as a part-time guardsman at the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in North Hanover, N.J., in October 2001.
The protocol calls for honor guardsmen to give the very blessing Cubbage offered “if the next of kin has expressed a religious preference or belief.” Cubbage said he always checked with the family first to see if they would like to receive the blessing.
But after one of Cubbage’s fellow honor guardsmen complained, Cubbage was ordered to stop giving the blessing because it could “offend Jews and Muslims.” He then was fired last October after he continued to give the blessing.
Lt. Col. Roberta Niedt, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, or NJDMVA, told the Philadelphia Inquirer the cemetery has a “standard phrase [for the flag presentation] for each service” and that Cubbage was dismissed for departing from the standard presentation protocol.
The American Family Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes family values, picked up on the incident and issued an action alert e-mail to its members urging them to contact Gov. James McGreevey and top officials at the NJDMVA and raise objection to “PC run amok.”
As a result, the governor received 65,000 e-mails in support of Cubbage, according to AFA.
At the same time, the international civil-liberties group The Rutherford Institute came on the scene to mount a legal defense for Cubbage.
State officials immediately responded to the pressure, issuing a statement announcing that the NJDMVA’s deputy adjutant general had ordered Cubbage be restored to his position “subject to a negotiated agreement” with the state.
“Staff Sgt. Cubbage had been discharged from his position in connection with adherence to U.S. Department of Defense Policy on Military Funeral Honors,” added the statement.
When a spokesman for the governor told AFA Cubbage had been offered his job back, AFA sent out a follow-up e-mail congratulating its members on their victory.
But Cubbage remains unemployed and depressed.
“The governor’s office led us to believe that he had intervened in the case and that Mr. Cubbage was given his job back. We believe we were misled by the governor’s office,” AFA’s Randy Sharpe told WorldNetDaily. “The issue is still alive.”
John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, told WND the “negotiated agreement” offered to his client by NJDMVA and referenced in its statement “insulted” and “deflated” Cubbage.
According to Whitehead, the agreement calls for Cubbage to reapply for his position as though he were a rookie and requires him to say that he violated the federal policy on military funeral honors.
Whitehead said Cubbage has been unable to find a new job because he’s honest and tells prospective employers that he had been fired.
The Rutherford Institute seeks back wages, a clean file, an apology and the same seniority with the department as though Cubbage was never gone.
“It’s a dark day in the life of our nation when an American can’t ask God’s blessing on this country,” he said.
Calls to the governor’s office and to NJDMVA were not returned. AFA’s efforts to get a clarification on the blessing were also rebuffed.
Whitehead is hopeful the case will be settled out of court and pointed out the irony of President Bush’s remarks following the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Colombia.
Bush ended his moving address Saturday by saying, “May God bless the grieving families, and may God continue to bless America.”
“Cubbage said those same words and got fired,” said Whitehead, who also intends to seek clarification on the federal policy from Bush.
“The president should say something about this because if he can say it, why can’t an honor guardsman?” he asked.
As WND reported, The Rutherford Institute posted an online petition to enlist support for its case and to press Bush and Congress to take a stand on the issue “once and for all.”
“America is supposed to be a land where freedom and faith go hand in hand, but for Patrick Cubbage … it seems to bear little resemblance to the framework our founding fathers established to protect our rights to religious freedom,” reads the petition.
The institute reports 4,347 people have added their electronic signatures to the petition.
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