Defense Department Asked to Examine Officers’ Acts Supporting Christian Group
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 11, 2006; A03
A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.
In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.
“I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. “And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am.”
Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service’s response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy “has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I’m just thankful for the service they give,” he says.
The 10-minute video is on the group’s Web site, Christianembassy.com. The organization was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ. The Christian Embassy Web site says the group holds prayer breakfasts each Wednesday in the Pentagon’s executive dining room and organizes small groups to help military leaders “bridge the gap between faith and work.”
Army Brig. Gen. Bob Casen refers in the video to the Christian Embassy’s special efforts to reach admirals and generals through Flag Fellowship groups. Whenever he sees another fellowship member, he says, “I immediately feel like I am being held accountable, because we are the aroma of Jesus Christ.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group led by retired Air Force lawyer Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, is requesting an investigation in a letter to the Defense Department’s inspector general.
Weinstein, a White House lawyer in the Reagan administration, cites Defense Department regulations barring personnel from appearing in uniform in “speeches, interviews, picket lines, marches, rallies or any public demonstration . . . which may imply Service sanction of the cause for which the demonstration or activity is conducted.”
All the officers are identified in the video by their Defense Department positions, “yet the video failed to include any disclaimers indicating that the views expressed were not those of the Department of Defense,” the letter says.
It asks whether the officers received permission to promote the Christian Embassy and whether any other religious or secular organizations have been allowed to use Pentagon facilities and uniformed personnel in promotional videos.
Catton said yesterday that he does not remember whether he sought approval to appear in the video, which he said was made in 2005. “If someone asked me today to do it, I for sure would ask permission,” said the general, who sparked controversy this year by raising money from fellow officers for a congressional candidate.
Christian Embassy officials in Washington did not return phone messages left at their homes and offices over the weekend.
Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday that “it is impossible for me or the department to comment on a letter we haven’t received yet.” Once the letter is in hand, he added, “I’m confident that the inspector general will take the appropriate action.”
In 2003, Army Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin drew criticism for appearing in uniform before church groups and saying, in remarks captured on video, that President Bush was “appointed by God,” that the United States is “a Christian nation” and that Muslims worship “an idol.” The inspector general’s office determined that Boykin had not violated any rules, and he remained in a top intelligence post.
This year, Navy chaplain Gordon J. Klingenschmitt was court-martialed for appearing in uniform at a political protest in front of the White House, though he maintained that all he did was lead a prayer.
Weinstein noted that his son and daughter-in-law, who are serving as first lieutenants in the Air Force, received written permission in July to appear in a documentary based on the book “Constantine’s Sword,” a history of Christian anti-Semitism.
“They may appear on camera for this documentary, but as they will be speaking for themselves, as private citizens, not for the Air Force, they cannot appear in uniform,” says the order, a copy of which Weinstein provided to The Washington Post.