Pentagon religious controversy continues on National Day of Prayer

(Photo: Reuters / Erik De Castro)A U.S. army soldier prays in a corner of a tent used as a chapel during a Sunday religious service at U.S. military's Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar city, southern Afghanistan October 14, 2012. Picture taken October 14, 2012.

Already embroiled in matters of faith in recent weeks, the U.S. military again courted controversy during the National Day of Prayer in the United States.

First, the Pentagon hosted National Day of Prayer Honorary Chairman Greg Laurie on May 2 during the event despite opposition from gay rights groups.

Gays were against Laurie's appearance because he believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

Laurie, a California pastor and a speaker at large crusades whom some liken to a modern-day Billy Graham, told listeners, "I'm not trying to censor anybody else and I don't think they should try to censor us."

While the National Day of Prayer was going on, the Pentagon was involved in a brouhaha over its consultation with Michael "Mikey Weinstein, an activist who leads a group adamantly opposed to proselytizing in the military.

(Photo: National Day of Prayer Task Force)Rear Admiral William Lee of the U.S. Coast Guard speaks at the National Day of Prayer event at the U.S. Capitol. Lee received several standing ovations as he told his audience that he would not back down in the face of what he said were efforts by the military to limit the rights of Christians to share their faith.

Flames over the issue were further fanned when the Pentagon subsequently issued a statement which seemingly banned evangelism within its ranks and threatened to court martial those who participated in it.

The Pentagon backtracked and issued a new statement which said that evangelism was allowed as long religious beliefs were not forced upon military personnel.

In that context, Rear Adm. William Lee created a stir during the day's events at the U.S. Capitol when he told his audience that religious liberty in the military was being threatened, Todd Starnes of Fox News reported.

Starnes was one of the reporters who initially reported the story about the Pentagon's alleged ban on evangelism.

"As one general so aptly put it--they expect us to check our religion at the door--don't bring that here," said Lee.

"Leaders like myself are feeling the constraints of rules and regulations and guidance issued by lawyers that put us into a tighter and tighter box regarding our constitutional rights to express our religious faith."

Lee told of the conflict he felt when he found himself meeting a service member who had tried, unsuccessfully, to kill himself. He said that his heart told him to give the man a Bible even though that action was against policy.

"The lawyers tell me that if I do that, I'm crossing the line," he said."I'm so glad I've crossed that line so many times."

Lee, the last speaker at the three-hour event on Capitol Hill, received five standing ovations according to the National Day of Prayer website.

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president at the Family Research Council (FRC), said Lee demonstrated courage and was a hero.

The Family Research Council has been at the forefront of evangelical and conservative protests against the Pentagon's actions involving Weinstein and proselytizing.

World News Net Daily (WND) reported on Friday that Boykin was not satisfied with the Pentagon's latest remarks concerning proselytizing. He told WND that the FRC agrees that there should be no coercion to anyone to convert to any faith.

However, Boykin wants information concerning any assurances the Pentagon gave Weinstein.

He also wants assurances to the FRC that the living of and sharing of faith is a protected right. He said that if the Pentagon does that, "then we'll be satisfied."

Starnes cited numerous complaints against the military for its actions against Christians, including one rescinding the invitation to Franklin of Graham , son of Billy Graham, at a National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon in 2010.

Graham was banned from the event when controversial comments he had made about Islam, saying Muslim people were enslaved by their religion, came to light.

Boykin told WND that the military is openly hostile to Christianity.

He also asserted that the administration of President Barack Obama would he very happy if "the vestiges of Christianity" were removed from the military."

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