(CNSNews.com) – Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates Wednesday to reconsider the military’s decision to revoke its invitation to Rev. Franklin Graham to participate in a National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon.
In a letter to Gates, the congressman and 34 of their House colleagues said it was “intensely troubling that Pentagon officials have taken it upon themselves to deign what type of Christian belief and expression is ‘appropriate’ and then to censor a patriotic minister, whose own son is serving his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan simply because of the objection of an organization who has made it its mission to eradicate open expressions of religious faith in the military.”
An Army spokesman admitted in April that Graham’s invitation to speak was rescinded after complaints were made by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization founded by former Air Force officer Michael “Mikey” Weinstein.
Noting that fact, the congressmen wrote: “It is highly ironic that in the name of religious freedom and ‘inclusiveness’ it is peaceful religious expression that is being stifled."
The letter, which outlined the importance of religion to the military from the earliest days of the republic, said the right to possess one’s own religious beliefs and to express them freely was chief among the liberties the Founding Father’s sought to protect.
By censoring Graham, the military is “putting itself in the position of judging what acceptable belief is,” the congressmen wrote.
“We would like to know for the future by what standard is the military going to judge what are ‘appropriate’ religious convictions,” they said. “Might the Secretary explain to the Congress just how it will do this?”
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Franks pointed out that Rev. Graham is one of America’s most respected clergymen.
“To rescind Franklin Graham's invitation for these overtly political reasons is a disgrace that is obviously being done to placate a few outspoken critics, and an affront to those ideals that are the essence of America and that are reflected throughout America's history.”
Pence agreed, saying that America was founded on the notion that the government should not interfere with the religious practices or expressions of our people.
“That’s why it is so disheartening that leaders in our military have rescinded an invitation to Rev. Franklin Graham because of something he said about a religious belief,” Pence said.
“Rev. Graham is held in high esteem by many in our country. He has served the sick and needy with compassion. And like his father before him, Franklin has spoken his religious beliefs with unwavering clarity.
“Not everyone will agree with all that Rev. Graham has to say. But we can agree that our Constitution protects his right to say what he believes. There should be no equivocation on that point, and I am urging President Obama and Secretary Gates to direct the military to once again invite Rev. Graham to Thursday’s National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon.”
Rev. Graham, the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, is chairman of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization, and the chairman of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Rep. Franks is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, the Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, Military Readiness Subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Pence is the chairman of the House Republican Conference.
The Defense Department has not responded to the congressional request.