WASHINGTON — Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed on a sidewalk outside the Pentagon Thursday after his invitation to a prayer service inside was withdrawn because of his criticism of Islam as a religion that mistreats women and minorities.
Graham's invitation to attend an event inside the Defense Department for national prayer day was withdrawn two weeks ago.
But he arrived in the Pentagon parking lot just before 8 a.m. — his party of a half dozen people forming a circle on the sidewalk and praying with heads bowed for about five minutes, the Associated Press reported.
"I have a son in Afghanistan and I came today to pray for our men and women that serve this nation," he said. "They risk their lives every day to protect our freedom. So my prayer was that God would watch over them."
Graham, honorary chairman of the 2010 National Day of Prayer Task Force, has been a fierce critic of Islam after seeing firsthand the treatment of women and Muslim minorities in the Middle East. He told an impromptu press conference Thursday that he doesn't feel his statements about Islam were offensive.
"We certainly love the Muslim people," Graham told Newsmax in an exclusive interview
on Monday. "But that is not the faith of this country. And that is not the religion that built this nation. The people of the Christian faith and the Jewish faith are the ones who built America, and it is not Islam."
He also warned Christian of “coming” persecution for believing in Jesus Christ.
Editor’s Note: See “Franklin Graham: Obama 'Giving Islam a Pass,' Warns of Persecution.”
As observers celebrated the National Day of Prayer Thursday, a recent court ruling also shrouded in controversy a day meant for reflection and prayer.
Religious leaders and government officials are holding events Thursday to mark the 59th observance of the day, including capping off a marathon Bible reading in Washington, D.C., that began Wednesday, Fox News reported.
The event, created in 1952 and signed into law by President Harry Truman, was amended in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan to state that the day would be observed on the first Thursday in May. Organizers cite the day of prayer's origins to 1775 when the Continental Congress encouraged the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a nation.
The Obama administration issued a proclamation last Friday as his Justice Department appeals a federal judge's ruling last month that the day of prayer is unconstitutional.
"Prayer has been a sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs, and thus we have long deemed it fitting and proper to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on this day across the Nation," Obama said in the proclamation.
The lawsuit challenging the day of prayer was brought by the Freedom From Religious Foundation, a Madison, Wis.-based group of atheists and agnostics. Protests were expected there and in Washington.
In the lawsuit, originally filed against the Bush administration, the foundation argues the day violates the separation of church and state.
Expecting her ruling to be challenged, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb said in her decision last month that the National Day of Prayer can continue until the legal process is exhausted.
"It's just unfortunate that this decision was made by the Pentagon,” Graham told Fox News. “The Muslims have their holidays that they celebrate at the Pentagon. They celebrated Ramadan. They have prayer services there. But for us Christians to have prayer services, and for them to object and for the Army to give in to their objections is something that I just don't understand.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s decision to withdraw its invitation has prompted outrage. Thirty-six members of the House sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging him to reconsider the military's decision.
"To rescind Franklin Graham's invitation for these overtly political reasons is a disgrace that is obviously being done to placate a few outspoken critics, and an affront to those ideals that are the essence of America and that are reflected throughout America's history," Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., told Fox News.
"Not everyone will agree with all that Rev. Graham has to say," Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said. "But we can agree that our Constitution protects his right to say what he believes."
Editor's Note: See "Kingston Calls for Hearings on Prayer Day Debacle."
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