The U.S. Army will take part in the annual National Day of Prayer May 1, despite efforts by Mikey Weinstein and his secularist Military Religious Freedom Foundation to bully the military into dropping involvement in the religious event.
In mid-April Weinstein sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demanding that he order the military branches to stand down from any involvement in the event hosted by the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The main event will be held in Washington, D.C., at the Cannon House Office building, and will include a U.S. military color guard, a military band, a vocalist, and a chaplain, all provided by the U.S. Army.
“The planned participation by uniformed U.S. military personnel in this private fundamentalist Christian religious event, run by a non-federal entity, is an unequivocally clear violation of [a] plethora of DoD regulations and instructions,” Weinstein complained in his missive to Hagel. “The U.S. military absolutely cannot endorse these searingly sectarian events by its public participation in them.”
The Military Times reported that Weinstein's complaint “was prompted by more than two dozen senior Pentagon civilians and officers who reached out to his group, upset that military personnel would be used in the event. Weinstein would not identify those individuals, saying they fear retribution for their opposition.”
The Times noted that Weinstein's assault did not specifically attack the National Day of Prayer observance, which was federally sanctioned in 1952 when President Harry Truman signed a bill for the annual event. Rather, said the military news site, Weinstein targeted the National Day of Prayer Task Force, a predominantly evangelical group which organizes the annual Washington, D.C., observance and broadcast.
The Military Times reported that the task force “has repeatedly maintained its status as a nonpartisan, nondenominational group focused on 'the need to pray for the well-being of America and for those in leadership.'” On its website the National Day of Prayer Task Force said that the event on Capitol Hill, which will mirror hundreds of similar prayer events around the nation, is focused on “emphasizing the need for individuals to join together in corporate prayer, calling upon the unfailing character of God, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men — the God under whom this nation stands.”
While the task force, headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, emphasized its non-partisan and non-denominational stature, Weinstein complained that in reality it “is to the National Day of Prayer as what a National Football League al-Qaida chapter would be to the National Football League.”
In addition to demanding that Hagel ban military involvement, he also “respectfully” demanded that the defense secretary “aggressively investigate and appropriately punish any of the individuals and/or organizations that would have allowed for uniformed personnel to participate in this sectarian spectacle.”
Standing at the head of the line of guilty parties was the U.S. Army, which said that it had no plans to back out of its involvement in the event. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes said that in addition to sending a chaplain, the Army's Military District of Washington would contribute a color guard, a vocalist, and a military band for the event.
In a press release the National Day of Prayer Task Force said that the theme for the May 1 observance will be “One Voice, United in Prayer.” The group's vice chairman, John Bornschein, said that the 63rd annual Day of Prayer “will have profound significance for our country. By joining together in prayer, we have an unprecedented opportunity to see the Lord’s healing and renewing power made manifest as we call upon citizens to humbly come before His throne.”
The Christian News Network noted that while President Truman may have signed a law making the National Day of Prayer an official event, presidents over the past 200-plus years have called the nation to prayer both in times of peace and crisis. “In 1798, President John Adams proclaimed a national day of humiliation, prayer and fasting,” the Christian news site recalled. In his proclamation President Adams stated that “as the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God, and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him … this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities — the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity — are a loud call to repentance and reformation.”