The Wednesday presentation, just days before the end of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, came in front of about 300 military and civilian attendees, according to a civilian employee in attendance. He requested his name be withheld, citing potential reprisal.
The meeting was the second in a two-part Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, he said. Multiple sessions of the program were offered so that all individuals on post could attend.
The training fulfilled a mandatory requirement, according to a Redstone Arsenal statement, but the particular seminar "was not mandatory or required for personnel." The employee said work schedules made the seminar the most practical way for him and others to meet the requirement, and that calling the session not mandatory was "a semantics game."
An arsenal spokeswoman did not provide any additional information and would not answer specific questions related to the presentation.
The religious themes led more than two dozen attendees to contact the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group that has engaged the Defense Department for about decade on similar issues. Recent topics have included "missing man" prisoner-of-war tables with Bibles, a National Prayer Day event on a Marine Corps base and a variety of signs featuring religious imagery or phrases.
"This was absolutely inappropriate, and it happens continually at Redstone," MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force officer, said Thursday. "They have basically created an alloy between fundamentalist Christianity and being in the U.S. Army. … The command climate is so noxious there."
"There's just really nobody to report these things to," he said. "You can't go to your leadership because they are going to be biased toward Christianity."
In his email to the MRFF, provided by Weinstein to Army Times, the employee took offense at the SHARP seminar's subject matter, identifying himself as a childhood victim of sexual assault and saying the presenter's position "that we all need Jesus to survive such a horrific thing is offensive on many levels."
The presenter, Tajuan McCarty, founded The WellHouse in 2010, a group based about 80 miles from the arsenal that identifies itself as "a place extending God's grace to victims of human sex trafficking." Ashley Anderson, the group's development director, said Friday that WellHouse had not participated in Army SHARP events before Redstone officials invited McCarty to speak.
Faith is a large part of the group's work in recovery and other programs, Anderson said, and McCarty's presentations, which she gives frequently, reflect that.
The speaker's views "do not represent the views of Redstone Arsenal," according to the installaton's statement.
The Wednesday afternoon training session lasted about an hour, the civilian said, with about three minutes for the opening prayer and more than 40 minutes for the WellHouse presentation.
Soldiers and Army civilians aren't strangers to SHARP seminars, but a passage in Army Regulation 350-1, Army Training and Leader Development, outlines how such training should avoid faith-based subject matter:
Appropriated funds may not be used for any training, education and professional development activity that is offensive to employees and unnecessary in the execution of current or anticipated duties. The restrictions apply to activities that could induce high levels of emotional response or psychological stress; do not require prior employee notification of the content and methods to be used in the activity and written end-of course evaluations; contain any methods or content associated with religious or quasi-religious belief systems or new age belief systems; or is offensive to, or designed to change participants' personal values or lifestyle outside the workplace.
Weinstein said he hopes the arsenal investigates the matter and holds event organizers accountable for what he considers "a complete assault" on civil and religious rights. Unlike previous issues involving MRFF, he said the organization does not plan to issue a direct call for action to the post's leadership, but does intend to file a request via the Freedom of Information Act to determine how the SHARP training was designed and approved.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.