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Evangelical Group Says Pentagon Approved Its Video

An evangelical Christian group, under fire for a promotional video featuring active-duty military officers praising the organization, said Monday it was given permission by the Defense Department.
( [email protected] ) Dec 12, 2006 12:20 PM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) - An evangelical Christian group, under fire for a promotional video featuring active-duty military officers praising the organization, said Monday it was given permission by the Defense Department.

The video prompted a religious freedom watchdog group to ask the Pentagon to investigate whether the tape violated regulations and possibly the Constitution.

Robert Varney, executive director of the Christian Embassy, which produced the video, said the group was adding a note telling viewers the content does not represent the military or any government agency.

"We don't think we did anything in violation," Varney said. "The Pentagon gave us permission to film the video, and I don't think they'd give us permission if it were in violation of the regulations."

The organization was established 31 years ago to promote prayer groups and Christian values among government officials.

The 10-minute video features prominent military officers speaking on the group's behalf while in uniform. Much of it was recorded inside the Pentagon.

Service regulations in general prohibit active-duty officers from lobbying for political causes while on duty or wearing their uniforms. The issue of religion in the military is trickier, with regulations seeking to both uphold religious freedom and protect members from proselytizing.

In letters released Monday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation asked that the Defense Department's inspector general investigate the matter and that any documents authorizing the officers' involvement in the film be released.

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the foundation, said in a statement he hoped the footage would serve as "a testament to systemic problems of religious bias and constitutional neglect that continue to occur within the United States armed forces."

The Pentagon said it needs more time to determine whether the latest incident warrants an investigation.

"The Department of Defense does not endorse any particular religious faith, but we do provide service members with the ability to practice their religion," said spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton.

A 1988 directive, still in effect, cites department policy that says "requests for accommodation of religious practices should be approved by commanders when accommodation will not have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, standards or discipline."

Upton said the Pentagon will take this directive and others into account when trying to determine whether the officers or others crossed the line in participating in the film.

Featured in the video are four generals and three colonels, including Maj. Gen. Jack Catton Jr., who is on active duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Catton was investigated by the Air Force last spring after he sent an e-mail from his work account urging Air Force Academy graduates to contribute to a Republican candidate for Congress.

Catton's spokeswoman said that investigation resulted in administrative actions that have not been made public. Catton declined to comment about the video.

In the video, Catton said the Christian Embassy helped inspire Christian faith throughout the Pentagon: "I think it's a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as we advise the chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and the secretary of defense. Hallelujah."

The Christian Embassy was founded by Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ International. The group hosts a prayer breakfast each Wednesday in the Pentagon's executive dining room, featuring speakers on "how to integrate faith, personal beliefs and work."

The group also sponsors weekly meetings throughout the Pentagon in which "staffers share and sharpen one another in their quest to bridge the gap between faith and work," according to the group's Web site.

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