Officers' Roles in Christian Video Are Called Ethics Breach
Saturday, August 4, 2007
The Defense Department's inspector general has found that four generals and three other military officers improperly participated in a fundraising video for an evangelical Christian group, inappropriately offering support for the religious organization while appearing to operate within the scope of their official government duties, according to a 47-page investigative report.
Investigators concluded that the officers should not have participated in the filming in 2005 of a 10-minute video for Christian Embassy, a nonprofit religious group, which ultimately used the video as a fundraising tool. While Christian Embassy has hosted prayer meetings at the Pentagon for years, the inspector general concluded that the officers' endorsement of its activities -- while in uniform, showing their rank and in the halls of the Pentagon -- violated ethical rules.
"The overall circumstances of the interviews emphasized the speakers' military status and affiliation and implied they were acting within the scope of their official positions as DoD spokespersons," the report concluded.
The military's connection to religious expression has come under scrutiny in recent years, highlighted by complaints of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy in 2004 and 2005, when officers were promoting evangelical Christian views. In 2003, Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin was faulted for criticizing Muslims while appearing in uniform before church groups, actions that the inspector general did not consider violations of ethics rules. Last year, a Navy chaplain 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.
The inspector general last week recommended that Air Force and Army leaders take unspecified "corrective action" against the seven military officers who took part in the Christian Embassy video.
Air Force Maj. Gens. Peter U. Sutton and Jack J. Catton Jr., and Army Brig. Gens. Vincent K. Brooks and Robert L. Caslen Jr. were singled out for failing to seek appropriate approval to participate in the video and for violating ethical rules by appearing in uniform while praising the religious group. Retired Army Col. Ralph G. Benson, a former Pentagon chaplain, was also criticized for allowing Christian Embassy unescorted access to the building to film the video and for misrepresenting the purpose of the effort as a promotion of the Pentagon chaplain's office.
The other two officers were not named.
Sutton, now retired, who was chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Turkey, and Caslen, commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, both wrote in letters to investigators that they "accepted full responsibility for their actions and committed to be more alert to ethical issues in the future," according to the report. Brooks, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division and former top spokesman for the Army, and Catton, director of requirements for the Air Combat Command, both wrote that they believed they met ethical standards and had thought they were taking part in an approved video.
The report, published last week, cleared Army Secretary Pete Geren and another civilian of wrongdoing for participating in the same Christian Embassy video, finding that they appeared in a way that obscured their government jobs and had no link to the Pentagon itself. Geren spoke of how important Christian Embassy had been to his life, calling it "a rock" that helped him in his "walk with Christ."
Christian Embassy was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ. It evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Christian Embassy officials did not return calls yesterday.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group led by retired Air Force lawyer Michael L. Weinstein, requested an investigation of the video last year. In a statement yesterday, Weinstein said he now wants Congress to hold oversight hearings.
The report "confirms the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated wall separating church and state by some of the highest ranking officials in the Bush Administration and the U.S. military," Weinstein wrote.