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Chris Rodda

Chris Rodda

Posted: June 25, 2008 03:24 PM

MRFF Urges DoD to Pull the Plug on TBN Special, Demands Investigation

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The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has sent the following letter to Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, urging that appropriate action be taken to halt the re-airing of a 2003 Fourth of July Christian concert, and demanding an investigation into the appearance in this program of active duty military personnel, including, among other things, an interview with a prominent three-star general, and a military color guard dipping two American flags to Christian pop star Carman.

June 20, 2008

Hon. Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Secretary Gates,

It has come to the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) that a television special in which members of the U.S. armed forces violate a number of military regulations, as well as the U.S. Code, is scheduled to air on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) on July 4 and 5, 2008.

The special, Carman's "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," originally produced in 2003, and re-aired on TBN in 2005, is a two-hour Christian concert, featuring pre-taped interview segments and footage of uniformed, active duty military personnel, as well as the participation of uniformed military personnel in the concert itself.

MRFF considers roughly twenty minutes of this two-hour special to be in violation of military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution, and urges the Department of Defense to review this footage and take appropriate action. The footage can be viewed at http://militaryreligiousfreedom.org/media_video/carman/index.html.

The twenty minutes in question consist of the following:

1. The opening number of the concert, "People of God." During the performance of this song, a military color guard, comprised of two American flags, along with the flags of the various branches of the military carried by members of their respective branches, enters via the aisles and proceeds to the stage, one American flag and two branch flags on each side. Both American flags are then dipped towards the center of the stage, in violation of Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, of the U.S. Code. The position of the flags, once on the stage, would also appear to violate Section 7 of this chapter, with one of the two American flags, for the sake of symmetry, being displayed to the left of the military branch flags.

2. The interview with LTG Robert L. Van Antwerp (a MG at the time of the filming). LTG Van Antwerp appears in uniform, introduced as the president of the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF). The interview was filmed at Fort Leonard Wood.

3. The tour of the Norfolk Naval Base. This was filmed specifically for the special, and includes interviews by Carman of Navy personnel, all in uniform and identified by name and rank.

4. The interview with Col. Ralph Benson. Col. Benson appears in uniform, identified as the Pentagon Chaplain. The interview was filmed at the Pentagon.

5. Footage of soldiers in training at Fort Leonard Wood. This footage was filmed specifically for the special, with the knowledge and permission of LTG Van Antwerp, who was Commander of the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood at the time of the filming.

6. Footage of the U.S. Coast Guard rifle drill team. This footage, filmed on a U.S. military installation, was supplied to the producers of the Carman special by an unnamed "friend." The original purpose of this footage, or permission granted to film it, is not known. Although this segment was not filmed specifically for the Carman special, it differs from the stock footage used in other parts of the special, both in length and context. The perfect timing and coordination of the drill team's movements with the Carman song they accompany would give the appearance to any reasonable observer that this was filmed for the special, and that the drill was choreographed to accompany this music.

7. Throughout the special, including the segments listed above, www.carman.org, the website of Carman Ministries, periodically appears on the screen, giving the appearance of an endorsement of this ministry by the U.S. military. Also appearing on the screen from time to time is a TBN phone number, which along with the involvement in, and airing of, the special gives the appearance of a government endorsement of TBN.

It is the opinion of MRFF that the above described segments are in violation of the same military regulations determined by the Department of Defense Inspector General to have been violated by the U.S. military officers who appeared in the 2004 Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy promotional video, i.e., JER Section 2635.702(b), "Appearance of governmental sanction"; JER Section 3-300.a. on personal participation in non-federal entities; DoD Directive (DoDD) 1334.1, "Wearing of the Uniform"; Army Regulation (AR) 670-1, "Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia." (See July 20, 2007 DoD Inspector General's report, "Alleged Misconduct by DoD Officials Concerning Christian Embassy.")

MRFF requests that the Department of Defense take swift action to halt the July 4 and 5, 2008 airing of the Carman "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and that any future distribution by Carman Ministries of this special on DVD be prohibited.

Additionally, MRFF demands, as it did in December 2006 regarding the Christian Embassy video, that the DoD Inspector General immediately initiate an investigation into the blatant violations of military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution perpetrated by all military personnel who appeared in, or participated in the production of, the Carman "Red, White and Blue Spectacular."

Sincerely,

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation


Note: The rifle drill team clip in the video is misidentified in MRFF's letter to Secretary Gates as a clip of a U.S Coast Guard drill team. The clip is actually of a U.S. Air Force drill team, possibly filmed at an air show. This error was entirely my fault, as I, as MRFF's Senior Research Director, provided Mikey Weinstein with the descriptions of the video clips. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer, would certainly not have made this mistake. Unfortunately, the letter was already in the mail by the time the error was caught, and, although we have the utmost confidence in the capability of our Defense Department to realize that those are Air Force uniforms and figure it out, MRFF has sent a second letter correcting this.

June 23, 2008

Hon. Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Re: Correction to letter of June 20, 2008

Secretary Gates,

This is to correct a minor error in the June 20, 2008 letter from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) concerning the illicit participation of military personnel in the Carman "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" television special.

The rifle drill team segment described in item number six of the list of segments of this special that violate military regulations, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Constitution was misidentified in our previous letter as footage of a U.S. Coast Guard drill team filmed on a military base. The footage in this segment is of a U.S. Air Force drill team, possibly filmed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

This correction, of course, makes the use of this footage in a religious program even more of an issue for the Department of Defense, as the U.S. Air Force is an entity of the Department of Defense rather than an entity of the Department of Homeland Security, as is the U.S. Coast Guard.

The branch of service of the drill team members and location of the filming are the only corrections to this item. There is no change to the remainder of the description, stated as follows in our previous letter.

The footage was supplied to the producers of the Carman special by an unnamed "friend." The original purpose of this footage, or permission granted to film it, is not known. Although this segment was not filmed specifically for the Carman special, it differs from the stock footage used in other parts of the special, both in length and context. The perfect timing and coordination of the drill team's movements with the Carman song they accompany would give the appearance to any reasonable observer that this was filmed for the special, and that the drill was choreographed to accompany this music.

Sincerely,

Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein
President
Military Religious Freedom Foundation


It should be noted here, for those unfamiliar with the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF), that Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp's endorsement of this organization in the Carman special is also in violation of the same military regulations violated in the Campus Crusade for Christ Christian Embassy promotional video, listed in MRFF's letter. The OCF is as much a non-federal entity as the Christian Embassy, Carman Ministries, or TBN. The OCF, although having a membership consisting of military officers, is a non-profit, privately run religious organization, incorporated in the District of Columbia, and registered in the state of Colorado since 1988, when it merged with the Rocky Mountain Association for Christian Training. The goal of the OCF, with a current membership of over 14,000 officers and chapters on virtually every U.S. military installations worldwide, is to "create a spiritually transformed U.S. military, with Ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit.," a goal paraphrased by Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp in his interview.

The appearance in the Carman special is not an isolated incident for Lt. Gen. Van Antwerp. Appearing at religious events seems to be a routine part of Van Antwerp's "duties," from regular appearances at prayer breakfasts and OCF ROTC retreats, to large scale events like the 2003 "Mission San Diego" Billy Graham Crusade, at which he gave his Christian testimony, in uniform, before a crowd of tens of thousands. This event was also broadcast via the Armed Forces Network to military personnel all over the world.

In addition to the military, U.S. Code, and constitutional violations detailed in MRFF's letter, the "Red, White and Blue Spectacular" contains a segment promoting creationism, several segments promoting prayer and Bible reading in public schools, and assails atheists, gays, and the rulings of so-called "activist judges." The participation of the U.S. military in this special is tantamount to a government endorsement of all these elements of what is essentially the fundamentalist Christian political agenda.

And, of course, no patriotic Christian extravaganza would be complete without a healthy dose of Christian nationalist American history revisionism. A video of Carman's song "America Again," a shortened version of which is performed in the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," was used for a time by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS) to promote its curriculum. A slew of other historical misinformation, which Carman credits to pseudo-historian and NCBCPS Advisory Board member David Barton, is found in another segment in the special. Debunkings of all the historical myths and lies in these segments can be found at Talk2Action.org, where I write primarily on the subject of historical revisionism. The majority of the myths and lies used in the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular" are covered in a series of articles I wrote last spring on the NCBCPS curriculum. Carman's "America Again" is specifically addressed in the second installment, and links to the entire eight part series can be found at the end of the last installment.

The DVD of the "Red, White, and Blue Spectacular," distributed by Carman Ministries, contains a second, producers' commentary audio track. It is from this commentary track that MRFF was able to determine which footage, not clearly identified in the special itself, was shot specifically for the special, and where that footage was shot. The track also contains some interesting comments regarding the military participants' concerns about following regulations.

Apparently, the only concern that the military had over the segment in which a military color guard marches in to the song "People of God," and proceeds to dip two American flags to Carman, was that the audience be standing as they did this.

From the commentary track: "Okay, here comes the drum corps. Remember the big thing that happened right before? They said -- before we went on -- they were, like, 'You know, we cannot enter the building unless everybody's standing.' Right. That was like their rules. I'm like, 'What? How long are they gonna be standing?' Or else they'd have to go out and start all over again."

But, the most ludicrous comment by far is this one, made when they're talking over the Van Antwerp interview segment: "And you know what? Another thing I gotta say, man. Major, major kudos to the military organization in general. They were so accommodating -- you know -- there's a lot of fine lines, PR-wise, that they have to walk and make sure that everything's done by the book..."

This was the reaction of the always eloquent Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of MRFF, after viewing the Carman video: "The mind-ripping video of U.S. armed forces personnel violating their sworn Constitutional oaths by comprehensively endorsing the fundamentalist Christian 'Carman Red, White and Blue Spectacular' maliciously defiles and lays waste to DoD regulations, bedrock Federal law and the most basic foundational principles of our United States Constitution. It is quite simply a re-vomiting of the putrescent disgrace of the noxious Christian Embassy travesty of 2006 and 2007 writ even larger. That prior Christian Embassy scandal being one for which, courtesy of the spineless cowardice of the DoD chain of command and its lickspittle Inspector General lapdog, resulted in absolutely noone therein named ever being meaningfully punished. In fact, several of the key participants have since had their military careers significantly furthered, enhanced, and embellished. MRFF will most certainly hurry to bring this entire sordid episode of massive DoD complicity with Carman's fundamentalist Christian television 'spectacular' before the Federal Court in its ongoing litigation in Kansas City, Kansas."

Col. Ralph Benson, the Pentagon chaplain who arranged for and appeared in the Christian Embassy video, also appears in the Carman special, filmed, once again, in uniform at the Pentagon. Col. Benson, although found guilty by the DoD Inspector General of violating a number of military regulations for his role in the Christian Embassy video, has received no known punishment, and remains in his position at the Pentagon, where the most recent event sponsored by his office was a prayer breakfast with creationist crusader Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, held on June 18. No known action has been taken against any of the other officers found guilty in the DoD Inspector General's Christian Embassy report. Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr., a brigadier general at the time of the Christian Embassy scandal, remained in his position of Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point until May 2, 2008. His promotion to major general was confirmed by Senate on April 29, 2008, and he has now been appointed to the prestigious position of Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division. Col. Lucious Morton, a lieutenant colonel when he appeared in the Christian Embassy video, was selected to attend the U.S. Army War College, and was promoted to colonel on October 1, 2007, less than three months after the DoD Inspector General recommended that "the Chief of Staff of the Army consider appropriate corrective action" against him. And last, but certainly not least, Preston M. "Pete" Geren, who, as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense was not subject to military regulations when he appeared in the Christian Embassy video, was confirmed as Secretary of the Army by the Senate on July 16, 2007.