May 1, 2013
The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
I write with great concern over the invitation of David Barton to speak at Fort Leonard Wood’s National Day of Prayer breakfast and to ask that he be disinvited from this event. I know that our colleagues at Military Religious Freedom Foundation and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have raised their concerns as well and we agree that Barton’s invitation should be rescinded. When government actors like military chaplains organize prayer events, it is imperative that they—and their guest speakers—be inclusive and non-sectarian. David Barton does not meet these criteria.
Inviting David Barton is a step backward in the process of creating a greater climate of religious respect in our military. He is a lightning rod, a leader of the movement of a vocal minority of Americans who have made it their life’s work to promulgate the (false) notion that ours is a “Christian nation.” Barton’s divisive message—that some American religious groups are entitled to more religious freedom than others—is the antithesis of what should be the message of such interfaith gatherings. His work and writings are prime examples of part of the stated theme of this year’s breakfast “why history matters,” but sadly, they are prime examples of why so much work must be done to dispel such faulty historical analysis.
For me, the issues at the center of this controversy are not so much what is legal, but what is wise. Generally speaking, government-sponsored prayer breakfasts (much like the National Day of Prayer itself) are rife for entanglement between the institutions of religion and government and of great concern to Interfaith Alliance. While I fervently believe that calls to prayer are best left to religious leaders and should not be facilitated in any way by government entities, if events such as these take place, it is paramount that they be inclusive of all religions and no specific religion. Even exceptional efforts should be made to ensure both the substance and appearance of inclusion. I wish that the chosen guest speaker had been someone who unites, instead of divides.
I am also concerned that even when attendance at events such as these is neither mandatory, nor necessarily even encouraged, a subtle and implicit coercion to attend and the stigma that accompanies not attending, are often abundantly clear to the would-be naysayer, thereby creating a de facto sense of forced attendance. It is crucial to ensure that service members are able to practice their faith—if they so choose—while serving our country and that no service member is pressured either to practice a particular faith in general, or to do so in a manner inconsistent with his or her beliefs. Our armed forces should reflect and respect the rich diversity of religious belief in America—not lift up the unfortunate divisiveness that can exist between religious perspectives.
Again, I urge that David Barton be disinvited from speaking at the Fort Leonard Wood National Day of Prayer breakfast. Thank you for consideration.
C. Welton Gaddy
Cc: Brigadier General Mark S. Inch
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.