Army considers rescinding invitation to evangelist
April 21, 2010
DENVER (AP) – The Army is considering whether to rescind an invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to appear at the Pentagon amid complaints about his description of Islam as evil, a military spokesman said Wednesday.
Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, was to appear at the Pentagon on May 6 on what is the National Day of Prayer. He said he will be a guest of the Pentagon and will speak only if he’s still invited.
Army Col. Tom Collins said withdrawing the invitation “is on the table,” but no decision has been made. He said Army brass will have the ultimate decision on whether to pull the invite.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation raised the objection to the appearance, citing Graham’s past remarks about Islam.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the foundation, said the invitation offended Muslim employees at the Pentagon. He said it would endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists.
Collins said the invitation wasn’t from the Pentagon but from the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works with the Pentagon chaplain’s office on the prayer event.
Collins said neither Army Secretary John McHugh nor Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. was aware of the invitation.
The task force organizes Christian events for the National Day of Prayer. A spokesman said the group planned to comment on the controversy later Wednesday.
Weinstein objected to the working relationship between the Pentagon chaplain’s office and the task force, saying the chaplains have effectively endorsed the task force by using its materials and routinely inviting its honorary chairman to speak at the Pentagon.
Weinstein said that amounts to preferential treatment in violation of Defense Department rules.
Collins said the working relationship has been reviewed by Pentagon lawyers and passed legal scrutiny.
“We are an all-inclusive military. We hold observances throughout the year. This one happens to be a Christian-themed event,” Collins said.
Graham is president and CEO of both Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian international relief organization in Boone, N.C., and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Charlotte.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Graham said Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion.” In a later op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Graham wrote that he did not believe Muslims were evil because of their faith, but “as a minister …. I believe it is my responsibility to speak out against the terrible deeds that are committed as a result of Islamic teaching.”