Every week, thousands of veterans are buried at national cemeteries, often to the sorrowful sound of a bugle. Yet even for families that quietly mourn their dead, these can be the most public of private affairs, taking on deep meaning — about politics, war and religion — to others, particularly other veterans.

So it is that in Houston, with one of the nation’s busiest national cemeteries, controversy exploded when the new cemetery director began enforcing a little-noticed 2007 policy that prohibits volunteer honor guards from reading recitations — including religious ones — in their funeral rituals, unless families specifically request them.

The new enforcement outraged members of local veterans organizations who have long infused their ceremonies with references to God. This summer, they filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs that has turned the national cemetery into a battleground over the role of prayer in veterans’ burials.

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