Religious Freedom Group Urges Pentagon to Pull Out of Prayer Day Event

Friday, 18 Apr 2014 11:33 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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A military religious freedom organization has denounced a National Day of Prayer event next month on Capitol Hill as basically a rally for conservative Christian evangelicals and urged the Pentagon not to support it.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has written to the Department of Defense and to the White House to plead with officials to withdraw military speakers from the occasion or allow uniformed ceremonial tributes, the Military Times reports.

The group claims that the Pentagon would be showing favor to, and thus essentially endorsing, far-right fundamentalists in the military if they are involved in the event, which lists evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Rev. Billy Graham, as its honorary chairman.

"The planned participation by uniformed U.S. military personnel in this private fundamentalist Christian religious event, run by a non-federal entity, is an unequivocally clear violation of a plethora of DoD regulations and instructions," the letter said.

"The U.S. military absolutely cannot endorse these searingly sectarian events by its public participation in them."The letter goes on to say that the foundation demands that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel "aggressively investigate and appropriately punish any of the individuals and/or organizations that would have allowed for uniformed personnel to participate in this sectarian spectacle."

Organizers of the May 1 event have been hyping the military's involvement in promotional materials, which they claim will include a band, color guard and an unnamed speaker, the Times said.

The foundation's director Mikey Weinstein noted that the protest follows complaints by two dozen senior Pentagon civilians and officers who raised their concerns to his office about military personnel being included in the festivities. They wished to remain anonymous in fear of retribution, Weinstein said.

The MRRF has no problem with the National Day of Prayer, but is highly concerned about the growing influence of Christian conservatives in military culture, says the Times.

The protest letter is specifically aimed at the National Day of Prayer Task Force, which is organizing and broadcasting the event. The task force says that it's a nonpartisan, nondenominational group focused on "the need to pray for the well-being of America and for those in leadership."

But Weinstein poured scorn on the task force's claims, saying: "The National Day of Prayer Task Force is to the National Day of Prayer as what a National Football League al-Qaida chapter would be to the National Football League."

The task force's Shirley Dobson is scheduled to speak at the event in the Cannon House Office Building along with her husband James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family.

Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz and Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright will also be giving speeches, along with current and former members of Congress, the Times reported.

The National Day of Prayer calls on all people of different faiths in the United States to pray for the nation and its leaders, and it's held on the first Thursday of May each year.

The theme for the Capitol Hill event is a Bible verse from the book of Romans: "So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

The MRFF says on its website that it's "dedicated to ensuring that all members of the United States Armed Forces fully receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom to which they and all Americans are entitled by virtue of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment."

In 2010, the foundation protested the invitation to evangelical preacher Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, to military observance ceremonies planned by the Pentagon for the National Day of Prayer. Citing controversial past remarks he made about Islam, the Army eventually withdrew its offer.

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