Witness Testimony of The Honorable Vicky Hartzler, Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives, (MO-04)
H.R.2355, the Hallowed Grounds Act will prohibit an individual who is classified as a Tier III sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act from being buried at a veteran’s or national cemetery.
Under current law, military veterans are entitled to burial in a veteran’s or national cemetery and to the receipt of honorary emoluments including a military honor guard, a U.S. flag, and a certificate from the President. These honors rightly honor the Americans who have given of themselves so all in our nation can live in safety and peace. However, there is a noteworthy exception.
Following the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, Congress passed and President Clinton signed S.923 on November 21, 1997 which prohibits veterans convicted of a capital crime, such as murder and treason, from receiving military honors. Prior to this legislation, McVeigh, a veteran of the first Gulf War, would have been eligible to be buried in a national cemetery such as Arlington National Cemetery. While veterans guilty of capital crimes justly have been denied the right to rest among our national heroes under S.923, veterans convicted of sexual abuse of children still remain entitled to these honors.
Current law affording military honors to veterans convicted of sexual abuse is an affront to decency and results in victims and their families being victimized all over again. It demeans the honor of all those who have served this nation to allow a child abuser to be buried alongside America’s war heroes in a veteran’s cemetery. Because I believe that no victim of sexual abuse should suffer the pain of knowing their abuser has received the honor befitting one who selflessly served others, I introduced the Hallowed Grounds Act.
The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act divides offenses into three tiers and has various levels within those tiers. The most serious offenses are grouped in Tier III. These individuals have committed horrendous crimes against children, accompanied by brutality and violence. These offenders behave in a manner that violates everything for which a soldier in our country fights—justice, the rule of law, and the safety of our citizens. I believe these offenders have surrendered their right to be honored by victimizing and oppressing others.