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Dec. 12, 2006
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A watchdog group that promotes religious freedom in the U.S. military accused senior officers on Monday using their rank and influence to coerce soldiers and airmen into adopting evangelical Christianity.
Such proselytizing, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has created a core of "radical" Christians within the U.S. armed forces and Pentagon who punish those who do not accept evangelical beliefs by stalling their careers.
"It's egregious beyond the pale," said Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. "We apparently have a radicalized, evangelical Christian Pentagon within the rest of the Pentagon."
The group asked the Pentagon's inspector general to investigate a video in which some Army and Air Force officers discuss their faith while in uniform.
According to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the video played for reporters was a promotional tool for Christian Embassy, a group that describes itself as a ministry helping national and international leaders blend faith and work.
The executive director of Christian Embassy, Bob Varney, did not respond to a request for comment.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department does not endorse any religion or religious organization or judge the validity of religious expressions.
He confirmed the Defense Department inspector general, the Pentagon's internal watchdog agency, received the letter requesting the probe, but noted it was the inspector general's policy not to say whether an investigation had been opened.
"At this point it would be inappropriate to speculate as to what actions might be taken," Whitman said.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation said the officers on the video violated military rules by wearing their uniforms while discussing their religious beliefs, giving the appearance of official participation in a religious organization.
That appearance, according to the group, is particularly damaging in the military, where rank carries great influence.
"It associates the power of office with sectarian ideology," said MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran reverend and former Air Force chaplain who said her military career was hurt because she did not adopt evangelical views.
The religious freedom group also raised issues with the content of the video, including a comment from Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack Catton that he would discuss his faith with people who came to his Joint Staff directorate within the Pentagon.
Weinstein compared what he said was radical proselytizing within the military with the Islamist militants U.S. troops are confronting in wars overseas.
"When we're facing a global war on terror against what we call Islamic extremists, it certainly doesn't help when we have apparently a viewpoint from the cognoscenti and glitterati, the leadership of the Pentagon, pushing a particular virulent worldview down the throats of people who are helpless to argue against it," Weinstein said.