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General News    H3'ed 1/24/11

MRFF's Response to the Air Force Academy Regarding "Lord's Army" Prayer Luncheon Speaker

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Message Chris Rodda
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Former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary
Former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary
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The background: The speaker scheduled to appear at the U.S. Air Force Academy's National Prayer Luncheon on February 10 is former Marine Lt. Clebe McClary. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), supported by a number of other organizations, both religious and secular, has demanded that the Academy rescind its invitation to Lt. McClary, and choose a more appropriate and inclusive speaker for this event. Why? Because of McClary's divisive and highly sectarian fundamentalist Christian message. As stated on McClary's website, "Clebe is what he likes to call a complete Marine. To him USMC will always mean U.S. Marine for Christ." Other statements from McClary make it clear that, to him, only born again Christians are "real" Christians. McClary's message not only excludes members of all non-Christian religions, but many Christians as well, making him a completely inappropriate choice for an Air Force Academy event that should be inclusive of members of all faiths.

The latest move by the Air Force Academy to justify keeping Lt. Clebe McClary as the keynote speaker for the Academy's National Prayer Luncheon on February 10 was an email from the Academy's Director of Communication, David Cannon, to the many organizations that have written letters in support of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation's (MRFF) demand that they rescind the invitation to McClary, and replace him with a more appropriate and inclusive speaker.

Here is Cannon's straw man laden email, followed by MRFF's response:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your concerns regarding the 10th Air Base Wing's invite to retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Clebe McClary to be the guest speaker for the 2011 National Prayer Luncheon on Feb. 10. I'd like to take a moment to give you the 'ground truth' on some of the issues surrounding this event to ensure you have the entire picture.

Each February, the President, Members of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other invited guests, customarily attend the Presidential Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. This gathering is a national tradition that dates back to the Eisenhower Administration. Its observance on military installations and in communities across the nation is an extension of this event. The event's purpose has consistently been: "to bring together the leadership of the United States in recognition of the spiritual values upon which our Nation is founded."

USAFA's Prayer Luncheon is a completely voluntary event; invites were only sent to permanent party members and staff (not cadets). There is absolutely no pressure for anyone to attend.

This year's program is very inclusive of many different beliefs. There will be readings by an Islamic Airman, a Jewish Airman, an African-American Christian Airman, a Jewish chaplain (rabbi), a Buddhist sensei and a Catholic chaplain (priest). By design, this expresses some of the rich religious diversity that makes up America's Air Force and your United States Air Force Academy.

We asked Lt McClary to speak because he is a highly-decorated Vietnam combat veteran (Silver Star and Bronze Star) and nationally recognized motivational speaker. He presents a tremendously inspirational message as he describes the loss of an eye and arm in combat, and how he overcame tough odds to succeed in his endeavors. His message is one of facing challenges and overcoming adversity and he has the credibility to support that message.

USAFA's luncheon is not funded by taxpayer dollars. Expenses are covered , in part, by the Chapel Tithes and Offerings Fund (to include Lt McClary's lodging, travel expenses, or honorarium). Those wishing to attend pay $7 for their meals.

And again, I appreciate your concerns and thoughts. I hope this helps you better understand the history of the National Prayer Luncheon and its importance to your US Air Force Academy , dozens of other military installations, and countless citizens across our nation.

David K. Cannon
Director of Communication
U. S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Mr. Cannon,

I'd like to take a moment to give you the "ground truth" on the issues surrounding this event to ensure that you have the entire picture. Our "ground truth" comes from service members who have actually heard Lt. McClary speak at previous events, both at USAFA and at other military installations.

But first, Mr. Cannon, I'd like to address the distractions and straw men in your email.

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Chris Rodda is the Senior Research Director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), and the author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History.
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