Changes to the website for the upcoming National Day of Prayer in Washington, DC, were not altered in response to a complaint by a watchdog group over Pentagon support for the evangelical Christian event, a spokesman for the organizers says.
Dion Elmore of the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force could not explain the removal of a military brass band, color guard and Army chaplain from the online schedule but said it was not done because of any concerns expressed by the Defense Department.
"Everything is going ahead as scheduled," Elmore told Military.com on Monday.
The Army's commitment to providing a chaplain, band and color guard for the May 1 event at the House Cannon Office Building next to the Capitol was confirmed again Monday by George Wright, deputy chief of Army public affairs at the Pentagon.
But early Friday morning, a day after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation urged the Pentagon not to support the event, the Army contributions were eliminated from the schedule, according to MRFF spokeswoman Chris Rodda. She had captured a cached version of the original schedule and compared it to the one published sometime later on, she said.
In addition to the band and color guard, Army Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Wayne Brittain was scheduled to deliver a prayer for the military, according to the original events listing.
The current events listing notes there will be a military speaker. No chaplain is listed. On Friday, Rodda said she believed the task force changed the schedule in response to an Army or Pentagon directive.
Wright, however, said the Army has not altered its plan to support the event.
Though lawmakers and other federal officials and employees take part in the National Day of Prayer, the event is not official.
Mikey Weinstein, founder of the MRFF, said in his letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that the task force event is not the National Day of Prayer begun by President Truman. That day was established by Truman as an event for members of all religions, while the task force is an exclusively Christian organization, Weinstein said.
"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 the plethora of [Defense Department] regulations and instructions," Weinstein told Hagel.
The task force event came under fire by the MRFF last year when U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. William Lee told attendees he had many times offered a Bible and a chance to talk about his faith to troubled sailors in need of help. He said he did it even though lawyers had told him that was "crossing the line" and could get him into trouble.
The task force is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson, who heads up the Focus on the Family, worldwide Christian ministry based in Colorado.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org