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Church State Issues

Mixing government and religion in the military

Aug 6, 2010

By: BRICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press Writer

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070806/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/pentagon_religion

Officers' role in Christian video probed

WASHINGTON - The Army and Air Force are considering disciplinary action against seven officers — including four generals — who violated ethics rules by assisting a Christian group in the production of a fundraising video.

The Pentagon inspector general found the officers were interviewed in uniform and "in official and often identifiable Pentagon locations," according to a 45-page report.

They made comments that "conferred approval of and support" to the evangelical group, Christian Embassy, "and the remarks of some officers implied they spoke for a group of senior military leaders rather than just for themselves," the report stated.

None of the Army and Air Force officers involved asked for or received approval from their superiors to participate in the interview in an official capacity or in uniform, according to the inspector general's report, which was released last week.

The report recommended that senior military leaders consider "appropriate corrective action" against the officers.

Lt. Col. Linda Haseloff, an Air Force spokeswoman, said Monday the service is still studying the report "and no additional information can be provided at this time."

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said the report is being reviewed by legal staff and no decisions would be made until they are done.

According to the group's Web site, Christian Embassy is a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization that "seeks to help diplomats, government leaders and military officers find real and lasting purpose through faith and encouragement."

Christian Embassy holds prayer meetings each Wednesday morning at the Pentagon.

The inspector general's report reveals a "long and deep collusion with a fundamentalist, religious missionary organization," Michael Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said in a statement.

Weinstein wants Congress to hold oversight hearings over the Defense Department's failure to separate "church and state."

Among the officers cited in the report are Army Brig. Gens. Vincent Brooks, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, and Robert Caslen, commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy.

Air Force Maj. Gens. Peter Sutton and John Catton also appeared in the video.

Sutton, who has retired, and Caslen "accepted full responsibility for their actions and committed to be more alert to ethical issues in the future," according to the report.

Brooks told investigators he believed he did not violate any rules. Due to Christian Embassy's long tenure of working with Pentagon employees, Brooks said he saw the group "as a sanctioned or endorsed activity."

Catton's response was similar. Christian Embassy had become a "quasi-federal entity," he told investigators, and he believed he was taking part in a program approved by the Defense Department.

Catton is director of requirements at Air Combat Command, Langley Air Force Base, Va.

Retired Army Col. Ralph Benson, former Pentagon chaplain, was criticized for allowing Christian Embassy to film inside the Pentagon. Benson, the report said, misrepresented "the purpose and proponent of the video."

The names of the other two officers were redacted from the report.

Cleared of any impropriety was Army Secretary Pete Geren and an unnamed civilian Army employee. Investigators said while Geren and the employee "provided personal endorsements of Christian Embassy, they did so without verbal or visual references to position, title or DOD."