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Catholic group sues Biden administration for denying permit for Memorial Day mass: 'Way out of line'

The Knights of Columbus filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service for denying a permit to hold its annual Memorial Day mass, citing religious discrimination.

A Catholic service organization has sued the Biden administration for religious discrimination after it was stopped from holding its longstanding Memorial Day mass at a national cemetery.

Attorneys for the Knights of Columbus filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against the National Park Service in Petersburg, Virginia, on Tuesday, after officials refused to grant a permit for the religious service at the Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

This is the second year in a row the religious group has been denied a permit at the cemetery where they had been holding the Memorial Day mass for the past 60 years.

"The policy and the decision blocking the Knights of Columbus from continuing their long-standing religious tradition is a blatant violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," McGuireWoods partner John Moran, who is suing the NPS on behalf of the Knights, said in a press release. "We urge the court to grant our restraining order and allow the Knights to hold their service this Memorial Day."

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An official with the national park that manages the cemetery defended the permit denial in a statement to The Washington Times.

"National Cemeteries are established as national shrines in tribute to those who have died in service to our country, and as such any special activities within the cemetery are reserved for a limited set of official commemorative activities that have a connection to military service or have a historic and commemorative significance for the particular national cemetery," Alexa Viets, superintendent of the Petersburg National Battlefield, told the Times.

Religious services and vigils have been classified as "demonstrations" since at least 1986, according to the park website, and are prohibited in national cemeteries. 

"Conducting a special event or demonstration, whether spontaneous or organized, is prohibited except for official commemorative events conducted for Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other dates designated by the superintendent as having special historic and commemorative significance to a particular national cemetery. Committal services are excluded from this restriction," the rules say.

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But attorneys representing the Knights said the group had been allowed to conduct a mass or prayer service at the cemetery every Memorial Day for years up until a recent policy change.

"The National Park Service is way out of line," First Liberty senior counsel Roger Byron said in a statement. "This is the kind of unlawful discrimination and censorship RFRA and the First Amendment were enacted to prevent. Hopefully the court will grant the Knights the relief they need to keep this honorable tradition alive."

A court hearing for the temporary restraining order will take place Wednesday afternoon.

Fox News Digital has reached out to the Petersburg National Battlefield and the National Park Service for comment.

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