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Group Assails 'Prayerful Leadership' Talk Slated for Quantico

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A civil rights group has written to commander of Marine Corps University at Quantico, Virginia, demanding that she "immediately cancel or appropriately alter" a National Day of Prayer event at the university where officers have been invited to "come out and learn how leaders use prayer to make hard decisions."   Mikey Weinstein, head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said Brig. Gen. Helen G. Pratt's office forwarded to officers at the university an invitation from the command chaplain to attend the "Prayerful Leadership" discussion on May 5 at school's Gray Research Center. Speakers include some of the school's top leaders, he said.   "That's what makes this so egregious," Weinstein said. "All the top people will be there."   The panel includes Col. Scott Erdelatz, the school's chief of staff; Col. Jason Bohm, director of the Expeditionary Warfare School; Col. Richard Hall, Wargaming; and Professor Rebecca Johnson, dean of the Marine Corps War College.   Pratt did not respond to Military.com's request for comment on Wednesday.   Weinstein said chaplains are well within Defense Department policy to email members of their own faith group and to invite them to events at the chapel, but emailing all officers through Pratt's office and holding the program at the university are prohibited actions.   "General Pratt, if you do not immediately cancel or appropriately alter your current [National Day of Prayer] event plans to be in full accord with Constitutional and [Defense Department, Navy and Marine Corps] civil rights protections, MRFF's clients intend to file aggressive Inspector General and [Equal Employment Opportunity] complaints against you in a sincere effort to exhaust all administrative remedies prior to anticipated Federal Court litigation," he wrote.   Weinstein said he was contacted by officers attending the school and now represents 21 of them opposed to the event being held there and hosted by its leadership. Weinstein does not identify his clients, he says, because they fear retaliation.   A redacted copy of an email he received, which he provided to Military.com, makes it clear that attendance is voluntary, noting that officers "interested in attending" should RSVP to Command Chaplain (Cmdr.) Maurice A. Buford.   But Weinstein said the officers his foundation represents make it clear they believe not showing up will be noticed.   A redacted email Weinstein provided to Military.com purports to be from an officer who says he feels his "promotion [is] on the line if I do not attend this.   "I was raised Protestant and have no issue with prayer but when the Commanding General sends out an invitation to a religious event I feel compelled to attend and if I'm not there my absence will be noted and potentially held against me," the email states. "What makes this even worse is the panel includes the leadership of the University and the school Directors and Dean with the message that Marine Corps University is a religious institution."   The email says the panel discussion is not on ethics, but the idea that religion will make people better Marines.   In the email, Command Chaplain (Cmdr.) Maurice A. Buford recalls that President Lincoln wrote that he was "driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.   "Come out and learn how leaders use prayer to make hard decisions. Understand how spirituality can help to establish good order & discipline as well as contribute to organizational success," Buford wrote. "Additionally, this panel will explain how proven leaders inspire others."   -- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.

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