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US Military Coordinated Day of Prayer Events With Christian Right Group

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At least half-a-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 Thursday’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 website.

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 Christians.”

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 click here "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 volunteer coordinator."

Mikey Weinstein, the president and founder of the government watchdog group the Military Religious Freedom Foundation http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org 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 regulations.

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 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 fundamentalist organizations.

ast 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.

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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