Army officials say they will not back away from participating in a Capitol Hill prayer event next month despite complaints that the event amounts to an endorsement of evangelical Christians. Last week, officials from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation demanded the Pentagon withdraw all support from a May 1 National Day of Prayer celebration being held in the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., calling it a “private fundamentalist Christian religious event.” At issue is the group behind the event, which has close ties to evangelical Christian groups. Planners have said they are nondenominational and nonpartisan, but MRFF leaders say support for the event amounts to favoritism for conservative Christians. Army officials disagree. In a statement, service officials said they would continue to provide numerous personnel for the event, including a chaplain to offer a “prayer for the military,” an armed forces color guard, a brass quartet and a vocalist for the national anthem. They also said they had no formal response to the MRFF complaint.
In the complaint, the MRFF demanded 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.” In an interview Monday, MRFF Director Mikey Weinstein said participation in the event clearly violates rules governing the separation of church and state, calling the Army’s stance “ridiculous.” The event is being organized and broadcast online by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. 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 (daughter of Rev. Billy Graham), Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright, and several current and former lawmakers. Army Times