Sunday, August 05, 2007

Seven high ranking military officers violated establishment clause

The DoD Inspector General recently issued a 47 page report that demonstrates the DoD IG's office remains committed to enforcing the establishment clause , even if only reluctantly so. The report, prompted by persistent requests by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) ( for an investigation, found that the Pentagon's Chaplain office together with high ranking Christian military officers illegally gave a non-profit, non-Federal Christian religious organization known as "Christian Embassy" various selective benefits that other organizations would not have received. Christian Embassy utilized this privileged access to Pentagon facilities and high ranking officers to produce a fundraising video.

Former Pentagon chaplain Colonel Ralph G. Benson (the Pentagon Chaplain since June 2006 is Colonel William B. Broome) and seven high-ranking military officers, four of them generals, violated federal government ethics rules by participating in the 2005 filming while in uniform that showed their rank in the halls of the Pentagon. None of the officers had sought or received the required pre-approval to participate in a film in an official capacity or uniform. The officers’ remarks conferred approval of and support to “Christian Embassy”, and some officers’ remarks implied that they spoke for a group of senior military leaders.

The serial ethics rules violators include Major Generals Peter U. Sutton and Jack J. Catton Jr. (Air Force), and Brigadier Generals Vincent K. Brooks and Robert L. Caslen Jr. (Army). Chaplain Bensons falsely claimed that the video was to document the Pentagon’s own ministry rather than that of a non-Federal entity, when it was actually intended to attract new supporters for Christian Embassy. This lie enabled Christian Embassy unescorted access to Pentagon areas and personnel. Christian Embassy, which seeks to "help national and international leaders working in D.C., their spouses and staffs integrate their faith and their work", was founded by Bill Bright, and is affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, a worldwide evangelical missionary organization also founded by Bill Bright.

Time magazine reported 'In the course of defending himself to the Inspector General's office, one of the generals asserted his belief that the Christian Embassy had become a "quasi-federal entity." This seems to support assertions by Weinstein that there is real confusion in high ranks of the military regarding armed service's secular status.' Mike Weinstein is the President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He was a White House counsel to President Reagan. An Honor Graduate from the USAF Academy, he served on active duty in the USAF as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) for ten years. Weinstein said of the Inspector General's report, "This is a victory, but a pyrrhic victory. The Pentagon's response has been at best tepid." He predicts that the Inspector General's recommendation for "appropriate corrective action" will be interpreted leniently.

Lets hope the Pentagon will act swiftly and firmly, penalizing the Chaplain and the officers to the full extent allowed by the law for these direct and brazen ethics violations. If, as Mr. Weinstein predicts, the violators just get at most token slaps on the wrist, then we can expect that similarly brazen establishment clause violations by the Pentagon will unfortunately continue due to the ongoing efforts of anti-establishment clause organizations like Christian Embassy.

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