Military Religious Freedom Foundation Mikey Weinstein said senior Pentagon civilians and officers have complained to his group about military participation in a National Day of Prayer event on Capitol Hill. (Courtesy of Mikey Weinstein)
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Longtime critics of Christian conservatives’ influence in military culture are demanding the Pentagon back away from involvement in a National Day of Prayer event on Capitol Hill next month, saying it’s a thinly veiled rally for far-right fundamentalists.
In a letter to military leaders and the White House, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is asking officials not to provide speakers or ceremonial support for the event, which they argue would show favoritism and endorsement of evangelical Christians.
“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 states. “The U.S. military absolutely cannot endorse these searingly sectarian events by its public participation in them.”
MRFF director Mikey Weinstein said the complaint was prompted by more than two dozen senior Pentagon civilians and officers who reached out to his group, upset that military personnel would be used in the event. Weinstein would not identify those individuals, saying they fear retribution for their opposition.
The letter does not attack the National Day of Prayer observance, but rather the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a group organizing and broadcasting the Capitol Hill event. The task force has repeatedly maintained its status as a nonpartisan, nondenominational group focused on “the need to pray for the well-being of America and for those in leadership.”
Weinstein dismissed those assertions. “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 group’s chairwoman is Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family. Task force officials maintain there is no connection between the two organizations.
Scheduled speakers for the Capitol Hill event include both Dobsons; evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Rev. Billy Graham; Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright; and several current and former lawmakers.
The theme for the Hill event, to be held in the Cannon House Office Building, 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.”
Organizers also have touted the military’s involvement in the event, including a band, color guard and a yet-to-be-named speaker in their promotional materials.
The MRFF letter “respectfully 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.”
Defense Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
This is not the first time MRRF has protested National Day of Prayer events. In 2010, the group objected to evangelical preacher Franklin Graham’s inclusion in Pentagon ceremonies scheduled for the observance, citing what they labeled his extreme religious views.
Army officials eventually rescinded their invitation to the preacher, citing controversial past remarks he made about Islam.
The latest task force event, scheduled for May 1, is expected to be one of hundreds of prayer-based events across the country.
Organizers of the Hill event said their work is geared toward “emphasizing the need for individuals to join together in corporate prayer, calling upon the unfailing character of God, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men — the God under whom this nation stands.”■