National News

After Legal Battle, Virginia Knights of Columbus Get Permit for Memorial Day Service at Cemetery

The Knights of Columbus color guard processes during a 2000 Memorial Day Mass at All Saints Cemetery in Newark, Del. (Photo: CNS/Don Blake, The Dialog)

WASHINGTON — A Virginia Knights of Columbus council that was banned from its annual tradition of a Memorial Day Mass in a national cemetery has now gained a permit allowing the service to take place.

For more than 60 years, the Knights of Columbus Petersburg Council 694 held its annual Memorial Day Mass in the Poplar Grove National Cemetery, a military cemetery outside Petersburg, Virginia. Last year, the National Parks Service barred the group from holding the service in this cemetery, saying it had to take place in a nearby “free speech zone” in accordance with a 2022 policy on special events.

This year, when the Knights were again shut out, they fought back, first writing a letter to the parks service on May 13 and then filing a lawsuit on May 21 stressing that their First Amendment rights had been violated.

In their letter, the Knights said their Memorial Day Mass was both religious and historically commemorative because of its focus on soldiers who died.

On May 23, the parks service granted the Knights a permit for the service at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery and the Knights dropped their lawsuit.

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

He also said the group appreciated the “tremendous support” of the state’s governor and attorney general.

In a May 23 statement, Attorney General Jason Miyares congratulated the Knights for the event’s outcome.

“I’m pleased that the Petersburg Knights of Columbus was granted access to observe Memorial Day and gather to pray and mourn the loss of fallen military personnel,” he said.

Miyares added that “the First Amendment very clearly allows religious and nonreligious groups to hold these types of gatherings on government grounds. It’s shameful and un-American that they were denied in the first place.”