[FoRK] apropos religion...

Eugen Leitl < eugen at leitl.org > on > Tue Dec 12 09:32:26 PST 2006

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http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=/Culture/archive/200612/CUL20061212a.html

Pentagon Evangelism Called 'National Security Threat'
By Nathan Burchfiel
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
December 12, 2006

(CNSNews.com) - Christian military officers who share their faith at work in the Pentagon pose a threat to national security, according to a group that advocates for religious neutrality in the military.

Public displays of faith by high-ranking military officers project an image of a Christian nation waging war on non-Christians, both inside and outside the United States, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said Monday.

This created an "internal national security issue every bit as great as the one we're fighting outwardly," said the organization's president, Mikey Weinstein.

"The jihadists, the insurrectionists, everybody from the head of Hamas, Hizballah, the Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, they see us as invading American imperialists and crusaders," he told a news conference in Washington, D.C.

Weinstein, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy who has been critical of proselytizing at the academy, called for an investigation into several officers who appeared in a promotional video for a Christian organization while in uniform.

In addition to creating a national security threat, Weinstein said, evangelistic efforts by Christian officers directed toward their colleagues or subordinates amounted to "coercion" and "fanatical unconstitutional religious persecution."

"There's a time and place to celebrate your faith or no faith," Weinstein said. "There's so many times and places you can do it ... but there's a few times you can't, one of which would be when you wear your uniform during the duty day and duty night and you outrank somebody else and you're trying to push your religious faith on them."

He called on incoming Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate a promotional video for the Christian Embassy, an organization that ministers to members of Congress, ambassadors, presidential appointees and Pentagon officials.

Christian Embassy, established in 1975, works with government leaders "not only because of their personal needs, but also because of their position as decision-makers to influence our families and freedoms," according to its website. At the Pentagon, the group holds weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies every weekday.

In the promotional video cited by Weinstein, four generals and three colonels appear wearing their uniforms. Among them is Lt. Col. Lucious Morton, who says that Christian Embassy-led Bible studies benefit the military as a whole because they create "Godly men" who will lead others into battle.

Maj. Gen. Jack Catton also appears in the video and says he shares his faith with people he meets in his office: "I start with the fact that I'm an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family, and then my country."

Weinstein said the video raises questions about whether the officers followed military regulations that restrict appearances in uniform for non-military purposes.

Their professions of faith violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from making laws "respecting the establishment of religion," he argued.

The video, which appears on Christian Embassy's website, carries a disclaimer that says "the views expressed by any government officials in this video are their personal views and are not intended to represent the U.S. government nor any department in which they serve."

Catton, director of requirements for Air Combat Command (ACC) at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, has been criticized for sharing his faith before. Last May, he used his military e-mail account to support a retired general who was running for U.S. Congress.

In that e-mail, Catton wrote: "We are certainly in need of Christian men with integrity and military experience in Congress."

Lt. Col Brian Maka, a spokesman for the DOD inspector general, declined to comment Monday on whether an investigation is underway, although media reports in May suggested that there was.

'No evidence of coercion'

Maj. Laurel Tingley, a spokeswoman for ACC, told Cybercast News Service Catton would not be commenting about the video because "it's going to be something bigger than Air Combat Command or even something bigger than the Air Force." She referred further questions to the Department of Defense.

Maj. Stewart Upton said Monday the DOD inspector general's office had received the complaint from Weinstein's group but added that it would be "inappropriate ... for us to speculate as to what, if any, actions will be taken at this point."

Upton added that DOD "does not endorse any one religion or religious organization but we do provide opportunities for military service members to practice their faiths."

Calls placed to Christian Embassy requesting comment for this report were not returned Monday.

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, criticized Weinstein for asking the DOD inspector general's office to spend time investigating the video.

She said that because the video is accompanied by a disclaimer and does not ask for money, it doesn't raise concern with her.

"The Department of Defense inspector general has an awful lot of issues on their plate, on their agenda, and I don't see this as something so important that everything else should be put on hold," Donnelly told Cybercast News Service after viewing the video. "The DOD IG has a lot more important things to do."

She called it a "stretch to talk about anything coercive," noting that a soldier engaging in religious activity such as prayer "appears to be purely voluntary on the part of anyone who wants to participate."

"I don't see any evidence that this is a coercive type of environment," Donnelly said.

-- 
Eugen* Leitl <a href="http://leitl.org">leitl</a> http://leitl.org
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