Catholic Fraternity Sues Biden for Not Allowing Memorial Day Mass

The Virginia Knights of Columbus scored a victory last week after the National Parks Service reversed its decision to prevent the group from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass at the Poplar Grove National Cemetary at the Petersburg National Battlefield.

The Columbus Petersburg Council of the Knights of Columbus on May 21 filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction against the National Parks Service over its 2023 decision to bar the group from holding its annual Memorial Day Mass.

The National Parks Service determined last year that the annual mass would be “categorized as a prohibited ‘demonstration’” under Park Service regulations because the mass was a “religious service.”

First Liberty, a legal organization that defends religious liberty, filed the motion on behalf of the Knights of Columbus.

In a statement announcing the motion, First Liberty said the Knights of Columbus hosted the Memorial Day Mass at the cemetery in Petersburg National Battlefield “every year since at least the 1960s.” 

Attorney John Moran described the National Parks Service’s decision to block the mass as “a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares announced on May 23 that he had filed an amicus brief with the court on behalf of the state in support of the Knights of Columbus.

Faced with growing pressure, later that day, the National Parks Service did an about-face.

In a May 23 news release, First Liberty announced that the Parks Service granted the Knights of Columbus a permit to hold the annual Memorial Day Mass.

First Liberty Senior Counsel Roger Byron said in the news release that the Knights of Columbus were “thrilled” to “be able to exercise their religious beliefs and keep this honorable tradition alive.”

Byron also thanked Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and state Attorney General Miyares for their “tremendous support” in the case.

Attorney General Miyares celebrated the news, saying in a statement that the First Amendment made it clear that “religious and non-religious groups” could hold “gatherings on government grounds.” Miyares said it was “shameful and un-American” that the National Parks Service had denied the Knights of Columbus “in the first place.”