Mike Nacincik, the spokesman for the National Cemetery Administration, said the new policy, which was outlined in a Sept. 27 memo, is aimed at creating uniform services throughout the military graveyard system.He said the 13-fold recital is not part of the U.S. Flag Code and is not government approved. After the complaint made its way through government channels, Steve Muro, director of field operations, wrote the new policy.Nacincik said that while the flag-folding narrative includes references to God that the government does not endorse, the main reason for the new rules is uniformity."We are looking at consistency," Nacincik said. "We think that's important."As for comments that the edict is an attack on religious beliefs, Nacincik said, "People are going to have their own views on that."He said the flag-folding narrative can be read but only if families make arrangements on their own and do not use cemetery workers, which include volunteers. The U.S. government owns Riverside National, the most active national cemetery in the country with more than 8,000 burials of veterans and immediate family members each year.
A Jewish Perspective
Rabbi Yitzhak Miller, of Riverside's Temple Beth El, said he understands the government's decision to ban the recitation but believes it is a quick solution to a complex issue."It is a perfect example of government choosing to ignore religion in order to avoid offending some religions," Miller said. "To me, ignoring religion in general is just as problematic as endorsing any one religion."Miller said the 11th fold, and the 12th fold, which refers to the Christian Trinity-"God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost-amounts to an endorsement of Judaism and Christianity. He said he would like to see a reference to "God as we understand God" mentioned in the ritual but without endorsing any specific tradition."To acknowledge those two without acknowledging others denigrates the patriotic men and women of other faiths who serve our country," he said.
Lloyd and Castillo said they always speak to families before providing military honors to their loved ones. Honors include a rifle salute, the playing of taps and the folding of the flag. Some families don't want any honors; others decline specific parts of the ceremony. Those wishes are paramount and are always respected.Lloyd said the 16 members of the Memorial Honor Detail he serves on have distributed hundreds of copies of the script they recite while folding the flag. They've received dozens of letters thanking them, and several mention in particular the flag-folding recitation. But now presenting families that memento isn't allowed under the directive.
Lloyd, a member of the state American Legion, said he knows Riverside National Cemetery workers are just obeying orders. The real battle is with Washington.
"We're going to fight this tooth and nail, hammer and boot," he said.
These meanings, not part of the U.S. Flag Code, have been ascribed to the 13 folds of American flags at veterans burial services:
1. Symbol of life.
2. Symbol of our belief in the eternal life.
3. In honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain a peace throughout the world.
4. Represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.
5. A tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, "Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but it is still our country, right or wrong."
6. Represents where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
7. A tribute to our armed forces.
8. A tribute to the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother's Day.
9. A tribute to womanhood.
10. A tribute to father.
11. In the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
12. In the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.
13. When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, "In God We Trust."