(September 23, 2010) An evangelistic rally jointly sponsored by U.S. military personnel and evangelical Christian churches and ministries violates the U.S. Constitution and must be cancelled, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Church-State Watchdog Group Demands Military Officials Drop ‘Rock The Fort’ Event Featuring Franklin Graham Ministry
The “Rock the Fort” event at Fort Bragg this weekend targets both military personnel and adults and children in the surrounding community for conversion to Christianity. This clearly violates the separation of church and state, attorneys with Americans United informed Army officials in a letter today.
“It’s not the Army’s job to convert Americans to Christianity,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “This event is totally unacceptable and must be canceled.
“It is particularly shocking that the military would join forces with Franklin Graham,” Lynn continued. “Graham has expressed utter contempt for Islam, Hinduism and other faiths. When our military joins hands with him, it sends exactly the wrong message to the world. Our military defends a nation that includes people of many different faiths and some who follow no faith at all.”
“Rock the Fort” is being sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) in conjunction with Fort Bragg chaplains and local churches. The current CEO of the Graham Association is Franklin Graham.
In addition to evangelizing soldiers, officials at Fort Bragg have invited members of the surrounding community to attend the Sept. 25 event, which will feature Christian music and sermonizing. Special emphasis will be placed on evangelizing children.
The Graham Web site contains a quote from Fort Bragg Chaplain Antonio McElroy who said, “I think we are trailblazing here in many ways. I don’t think there has been an outside concert of this magnitude with an organization like BGEA and our chaplains partnering with local churches to come together for one purpose – and that is to glorify God and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Graham site also tells partnering churches, “The Rock the Fort outreach is designed to channel new believers into your church, so you can encourage them to further spiritual growth. The future of the church lies in reaching and discipling the next generation.”
On June 2, a letter from the chaplain’s office at Fort Bragg was issued to local churches. The letter, signed by Chaplain David Hillis, urges clergy to take part in the event and notes that it will take “the Christian message to all of Fort Bragg and the surrounding community!” The letter goes on to state that the event is “evangelistic in nature” and that it “will conclude with a clear Gospel message.”
It is unclear how many churches received this letter, but given its evangelistic tone, it’s unlikely it was sent to any churches outside of the evangelical Christian tradition.
“The Army has no business entering into a partnership with evangelical churches to help them win new members,” Lynn said. “I urge Army officials to stop this event and make sure no more take place. In addition, the military must end its relationship with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.”
In today’s AU letter to Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan wrote, “The military’s participation in a religious event designed to proselytize soldiers and the community departs of the Army’s obligation to maintain ‘official religious neutrality.’
“’Rock the Fort’ is not an event designed to minister to the needs of soldiers unable to otherwise access religious services; rather, it is an event designed to proselytize soldiers and community members into the worship of Jesus Christ,” Khan continued. “The Army has, thus, overstepped the constitutional line by sponsoring the event.”
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.