US military coordinated Day of Prayer events with Christian right group
By Jason Leopold
Online Journal Contributing Writer
May 1, 2008, 00:22
At least a half-dozen active-duty military officials have
been working closely with a task force headed by the far-right fundamentalist
Christians planning religious events at military installations around the
country to commemorate today�s National Day of Prayer.
In working directly with the National Day of Prayer (NDP)
Task Force and agreeing to work as event coordinators, these military officials
not only violated constitutional provisions governing the separation of church
and state but they also signed an oath that states they �believe that the Holy
Bible is the inerrant Word of The Living God� and that �Jesus Christ is the Son
of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation and have an ongoing
relationship with God,� according to materials posted on NDP Task Force�s
Furthermore, the declaration signed by the military
officials says that they promise to �ensure a strong, consistent Christian
message throughout the nation� and that National Day of Prayer events scheduled
to take place at their military installations �will be conducted solely by
Lisa Crump, manager of the NDP Task Force�s local
coordinators, said that volunteers who are interested in becoming event
coordinators, including members of the military, must complete "a simple application with contact
data and statement of faith, confirming your commitment to Christ is all that's
needed to get you on the way to becoming a [National Day of Prayer] Task Force
Mikey Weinstein, the president and founder of the government
watchdog group the Military Religious Freedom Foundation
(MRFF) blasted the military�s participation with the task force, saying it
endorses a discriminatory policy.
�It is not likely possible to conceive of a more blatant,
heinous and noxious constitutional violation by our United States military than
it's filthy, disgusting participation with the so-called National Day of Prayer
'Task Force' and it's incontrovertible fundamentalist Christian supremacy
agenda of unconstitutional religious exclusion,� Weinstein said. �Further,
please immediately note that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation fully
intends to include this despicable collusion in our current federal litigation
against the Department of Defense as yet another stunning example of a
pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the
precious religious liberties of our honorable and noble United States soldiers,
sailors, marines and airmen."
The NDP Task Force, which portrays itself as the official
organizer of the National Day of Prayer, is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of
Focus on the Family�s James Dobson who has close ties to President Bush.
Although the task force is not directly tied to any federal
agency, it has coordinated many of its activities this year with active-duty
military chaplains and other military personnel at bases around the country.
That would appear to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment
prohibiting individuals from using the machinery of the state to promote any
form of religion. The Constitution protects the rights of the public to
worship, or not, as they see fit.
But the military has not been adhering to these strict
Indeed, two weeks ago, at Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado,
the community events office sent out an email to everyone on the base along
with a flyer announcing an event scheduled at Fort Carson in observance of
National Day of Prayer. The email included a message from Specialist Brian
Havens, who closed his note with �In Christ.� Havens is identified on the Task
force website as an event coordinator, indicating that he signed the Task
Force�s "Statement of Faith" application and agreed to uphold the NDP
Task Force�s Christian policies.
According to Chris Rodda, the senior research director for
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, Weinstein tried to persuade one
military chaplain to disassociate himself from a Task Force event in Missouri.
Rodda said she and Weinstein were �surprised� to come across
the name of Chaplain Kevin L. McGhee of the Missouri National Guard. According
to the NDP Task Force website, Maj. McGhee is scheduled to participate in the
NDP Task Force prayer rally at the Missouri State Capitol.
This is the same Chaplain McGhee who, last year, came to the
defense of Chaplain Bob Larsen, when Larsen converted from Christianity to
Wicca and applied to be the first Wiccan chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces.
When Larsen's application was denied, and he was removed from the chaplain
corps, McGhee, who was Larsen's supervisor at Camp Anaconda in Iraq, said that
a "grave injustice" had been done, and that "What happened to
Chaplain Larsen -- to be honest, I think it's political. A lot of people think
Wiccans are un-American, because they are ignorant about what Wiccans do."
MRFF informed Chaplain McGhee during a conference call last
week of the discriminatory nature of the Missouri State Capitol event and the
pledge on the part of its organizers to exclude non-Christians and asked him to
reconsider his participation. McGhee has not responded to an email sent
yesterday from MRFF asking if he still planned to participate.
This is not the first time the military has come under fire
for work it has conducted on behalf of Focus on the Family and other Christian
Last August, the Pentagon's inspector general responded to a
complaint filed in 2006 by Weinstein�s organization alleging that Defense
Department officials violated military regulations by appearing in a video
promoting Christian Embassy, a subsidiary of Campus Crusade for Christ.
The inspector general agreed and issued a scathing, 47-page
report that was highly critical of senior Army and Air Force personnel for
participating in the video while in uniform and on active duty.
The report recommended that Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton,
Army Brig. Gen Bob Caslen, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton,
and a colonel and lieutenant colonel whose names were redacted in the inspector
general's report, "improperly endorsed and participated with a non-Federal
entity while in uniform" and the men should be disciplined for misconduct.
Caslen was formerly the deputy director for political-military affairs for the war
on terrorism, directorate for
strategic plans and policy, joint staff. He now oversees the 4,200 cadets at
the US Military Academy at West Point. Caslen told DOD investigators he agreed
to appear in the video upon learning other senior Pentagon officials had been
interviewed for the promotional video.
The Army generals who appeared in the video appeared to be
speaking on behalf of the military, but they did not obtain prior permission to
appear in the video. They defended their actions, according to the inspector
general's report, saying the "Christian Embassy had become a
'quasi-Federal entity,' since the DOD had endorsed the organization to General
Officers for over 25 years."
Historically, the National Day of Prayer has been
non-denominational. Former President Harry S Truman signed a bill proclaiming
National Day of Prayer into law on April 17, 1952, so individuals of all faiths
could pray together. In 1988, President Reagan designated the first day of May
to be recognized as the National Day of Prayer.
But, for a number of years, the National Day of Prayer has
been all about promoting fundamentalist Christianity. Dobson�s task force seems
determined to turn the half-century old ritual into its own personal
recruitment tool by proselytizing to members of the armed forces and the public
in hopes of converting people to evangelical Christianity, according to task
force documents posted on the group�s website.
The theme of today�s 57th annual event is, �Prayer!
America�s Strength and Shield,� which is based on Psalm 28:7: �The Lord is my
strength and shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped.
Weinstein said the events scheduled for today, specifically
those planned by active-duty military officials, underscore the growing trend
and the influence fundamentalists have inside the armed forces.
�When United States military personnel knowingly engage in
deliberately public activities absolutely demanding the prerequisite of a
written, official acknowledgement of acceptance and supremacy of one particular
religious worldview to the total exclusion of all others, it is not merely an
'issue' or a 'problem,'" Weinstein said in an interview. �Let's call it
what it is; a national security threat internally to this country every bit as
formidable in magnitude as those external national security threats posed by
the Taliban, al Quaida, the insurrectionists and the jihadists. It's as simple
and wretched as that."
In addition to the NDP Task Force events being held on
military bases, there will be widespread military participation in non-military
NDP events. In Washington state, military flyovers are scheduled to take place
at the Calvary Chapel South ball field in Kent, according to the task force
website, and the Christian radio station, Praise, 106.5 FM, said the Whidbey
Island Naval Station will be providing a flyover at the Skagit County event in
In order for a military flyover to take place, a form must
be filled out and filed with the Pentagon describing the event and, after a
review; the proposal is either approved or denied by Pentagon public affairs.
The flyovers scheduled for The National Day of Prayer do not appear on the
military's list of eligible flyover events, raising questions about whether the
usual application process was completed and approved by the Pentagon.
Additionally, Marine color guards are scheduled to appear at
the National Day of Prayer celebration in Bakersfield, Calif., and the Concert
of Prayer in Wheeling, West Virginia. The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base Honor
Guard is slated to appear at the "Call To The Wall" in Wheatfield,
New York. The National Day of Prayer Noon Rally at the Phoenix City Hall
features the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard, and the Fort Huachuca Select
Honor Guard will appear at a service in Patagonia, Arizona.
Becky Armstrong, a spokeswoman for the National Day of
Prayer task force, dismissed charges that the task force was discriminating
"All Americans are free to exercise their First
Amendment rights to organize events that observe the National Day of Prayer in
a manner that reflects their religious perspective,� Armstrong said.
Leopold is the author of "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit
www.newsjunkiebook.com for a
new website is The Public Record.
Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal
Email Online Journal Editor