Secular Group Calls On Pentagon To Cancel “Christian-themed” Prayer Day

This post has been updated.

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, already up in arms because of a federal court ruling declaring the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional, is under fire for its upcoming prayer event at the Pentagon, and is facing the possibility that the Pentagon may revoke an invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham because of his characterization of Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion.”

There’s a National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon, you ask? Why, yes, and Shirley Dobson, the chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, is still angry that so many evil secularists are standing in its way. “We at the National Day of Prayer Task Force ask the American people to defend the right to pray in the Pentagon,” she said this week.

But the Secular Coalition for America says the whole event should be scrapped, and that the Pentagon should end its relationship with Dobson’s group. In a statement, the group’s executive director, Sean Faircloth, said:

It is bad enough that the administration is going ahead with an observance of the National Day of Prayer, correctly ruled unconstitutional by the courts only last week. But for the Pentagon to hold an explicitly “Christian-themed event” around the day of prayer is brazenly out of all reasonable bounds, and explicitly exclusionary to U.S. service members of all non-Christian faiths and of no faith.

Faircloth was referring to an AP report quoting a Pentagon spokesperson: “We are an all-inclusive military. We hold observances throughout the year. This one happens to be a Christian-themed event.” Has there been an Islam-themed event that featured a Muslim who had denounced Christianity as evil? Somehow I think not. Although the Task Force invited Graham to the program which is coordinated by the Pentagon chaplain’s office, military brass — who say they were unaware of the Graham invitation — can still rescind it. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had objected to the Franklin invite, saying it would endanger American troops by stoking Islamic extremists.

The Secular Coalition is also calling on the Pentagon to “sever all operational ties to the National Day of Prayer Task Force, radical right wing organization headed by the wife of Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, and housed in Focus on the Family’s offices.”

For more on how the Secular Coalition has called upon the Obama administration to address discrimination against nontheists in the military, see this report from 2009.

UPDATE: The Pentagon has rescinded the invitation to Graham.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email