A watchdog group objected Tuesday to an evangelist's invitation to speak at the Pentagon next month, saying his past description of Islam as "evil" offended Muslims who work for the Department of Defense and the appearance should be canceled.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said inviting evangelist Franklin Graham to speak May 6, the National Day of Prayer, "would be like bringing someone in on national prayer day madly denigrating Christianity" or other religious groups.
It would also endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists, Weinstein said.
Graham is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and president and CEO of both Samaritan's Purse, a Christian international relief organization in Boone, N.C., and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in Charlotte, N.C.
He said through a spokesman that he will be a guest of the Pentagon and will speak only if he's still invited. A military spokeswoman said she was locating officials to respond to the criticism.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Graham said Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion." In a later op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Graham wrote that he did not believe Muslims were evil because of their faith, but "as a minister .... I believe it is my responsibility to speak out against the terrible deeds that are committed as a result of Islamic teaching."
Graham hasn't changed his views on Islam, said his spokesman, Mark DeMoss.
DeMoss quoted Graham as saying, "As the father of a son serving in his fourth combat tour, I'd be glad to know someone was leading a prayer service at the National Day of Prayer, or any other day."
Weinstein, the foundation president, also criticized the Pentagon's working relationship with the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a Colorado group that organizes Christian events for the prayer day, designated by Congress.
Weinstein said that while he doesn't object to the day of prayer, the Pentagon chaplain's office has effectively endorsed the task force by using its materials and routinely inviting its honorary chairman to speak at the Pentagon. Weinstein said that amounts to preferential treatment in violation of Defense Department rules.
Graham is honorary chairman this year for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, based in Colorado Springs. A spokesman for the task force didn't immediately return a telephone message.
Weinstein said the task force is entitled to organize Christian-oriented events. But he said the Pentagon chaplain shouldn't be closely affiliated with the task force because it requires that all its events be conducted by Christians, although those with other beliefs are welcome to attend.
A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled last week that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. The judge did not bar any observances until all appeals are exhausted.
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