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Removal of Petraeus Endorsement from "Spiritual Handbook" Not Enough

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As a result of the exposure by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) of endorsements by Gen. Petraeus and Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling on the cover of Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel -- a book promoting Christianity and denigrating non-theists -- it appears that these endorsements are going to be removed from the book, and that the book's author, Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy, is going to take the fall for the constitutionally impermissible conduct of the two generals. Here's what's happened in the few days since my initial post about Petraeus's endorsement of this book appeared.

On August 19, Chaplain McCoy posted the following on his Amazon.com blog, calling it a "Correction."

"The endorsements which appear on this book are solely reflective of the author's writing and not an endorsement of the content of the work. The content is solely the author's responsibility. I apologize for any misunderstanding this might have created. A corrected back cover is in the process of being designed."


And, after Bryant Jordan of Military.com contacted Gen. Petraeus's office with questions about his endorsement, Chaplain McCoy responded with the following "Statement on Endorsement," sent to both Military.com and myself:

"I am the author of 'Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel.' During its second printing, I requested recommendations from respected military leaders for whom I worked. I received comments from General Petraeus and General Hertling. In the process of securing their comments for recommending the book I believe there was a basic misunderstanding on my part that the comments were publishable. This was my mistake. Their comments were intended for me personally rather than for the general public.

"Under Orders is a 'handbook' to assist service members not a field manual, and it is not doctrine for Chaplains in the U.S. Military. In my book, I expressed my personal opinions and it made it clear that they were my opinions. My writing never disparages any religion or spiritual preference but seeks to encourage service members to find faith -- of any sort. I have served Soldiers of all faiths and religious dispositions for nearly 20 years and believe that military chaplains support soldiers through the principle of the 'Free Exercise of Religion.' This book is a personal work and neither General Petraeus' nor Major General Hertling's comments should be misunderstood as an endorsement of my work but rather as an enthusiasm for helping Soldiers with their lives."

Chaplain (LTC) Bill McCoy

21st Theater Sustainment Command

Deputy Command Chaplain


Nice try, Chaplain, but MRFF has no intention on letting Gen. Petraeus or Maj. Gen. Hertling off the hook that easily. MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein isn't buying the preposterously far-fetched notion that Petraeus and Hertling were somehow oblivious to the fact that their endorsements were being used to publicize and sell your book, and has issued the following response to your statement:

"Making matters inestimably worse now, and only after first being publically caught red-handed by MRFF, Petraeus literally strains credulity by claiming that he 'never knew' that his 'private' written endorsement of this evangelizing book was being seen in the public domain? Note well that there's no denying he said it; oops, just that he had no idea the public would ever find out? He actually expects us to just blindly accept that such absurd, blissful ignorance is possible when that book was written by a well known, subordinate Army officer/chaplain and heavily and regularly advertised -- for many, many months -- in the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps Times? Next, Petraeus will be telling us that he just found massive WMDs all over Iraq. Let's let the judge decide. MRFF is now officially putting both Army chaplain Lt. Col. William McCoy, Maj. Gen. Hertling and Gen. Petraeus on direct notice not to destroy any of the written or electronic records of their communications about this endorsement as we fully intend to comprehensively introduce this entire sordid affair into our ongoing Federal litigation against the DoD (in Kansas City, Kansas), where MRFF is irrefutably establishing the DoD's pervasive and pernicious 'pattern and practice' of massive Constitutional religious liberties violations. Actions have consequences; completely irrespective of whether Petraeus or Hertling made dubious 'private' or intentionally public written comments. Petraeus's immediate dismissal and trial by General Courts-Martial under Article 134 is not merely warranted but demanded! Lt. Col. McCoy and Maj. Gen. Hertling deserve absolutely the same swift punishment."


The extreme punishment of Petraeus called for by Weinstein is about more than just a book endorsement. As Commanding General, Multi-National Force - Iraq, Gen. Petraeus must be held responsible for the epidemic of constitutional and military regulation violations occurring on his watch -- from violations of military chapel regulations at the military chapels in Iraq that sport permanently affixed crosses and Christian stained glass windows to the grave security threat posed by our military personnel evangelizing Iraqi citizens in violation of General Order 1A. Endorsements of Christianity from the highest ranks of our military, whether in the form of religious speech at command functions or through a book endorsement, send an implicit message to the evangelical enthusiasts among our troops that the military will turn a blind eye to these violations.

Chaplain McCoy is also breaking that pesky no lying commandment when he claims in his statement that he received the endorsements -- umm, "comments" -- from both Petraeus and Hertling during the book's second printing. The endorsement of then Brig. Gen. Hertling appeared on the cover of original 2005 edition of the book, along with those of Chaplain (Col.) Kenneth Leinwand and an Army specialist. Petraeus's was the only new endorsement to be added during the printing referred to by McCoy. The claim that McCoy made a mistake and that these "comments were intended for [him] personally rather than for the general public" is also a bit hard to believe. Are we really to be persuaded that Maj. Gen. Hertling began a personal comment to McCoy about his work with the words "Chaplain Bill McCoy's work is inspirational...?" Wouldn't he have referred to it as "your" work if this had been the case?

Patraeus spokesman Col. Steven Boylan eventually responded to Military.com, sticking to Chaplain McCoy's claim that Petraeus didn't know that his endorsement was on the book or being used to advertise the book. Col. Boylan's flimsy excuse for Gen. Petraeus not being aware of the book's regular advertisements in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Times was, "We don't get the stateside papers in Baghdad." Col. Boylan is going to have to come up with something better than that because MRFF has confirmed that these "stateside" military newspapers are distributed to U.S. military installations worldwide -- including all U.S. military bases in Iraq.

In addition to the "correction" on his blog and his statement, Chaplain McCoy quickly made changes to his Under Orders website, removing from it the endorsements of Petraeus, Hertling, and Col. Leinwand, as well as the official U.S. Army logo, which had appeared on the site as a link to the GoArmy.com page about a career in the Army Chaplain Corps -- a page that starts with an exclusively Christian video consisting of a series of images of Christian chaplains, crucifixes, and soldiers with Bibles, ending with an image of a group of chaplains running with a Christian flag. Of course, even though the link to this official U.S. Army website has been removed from Chaplain McCoy's website, this crap is still on the official U.S. Army website he was linking to.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that this video will be scrubbed from the GoArmy.com site once this post appears, but, have no fear, clicking on the image below will take you to a copy of the video that we saved and put on the MRFF website.

href="http://www.militaryreligiousfreedom.org/Media_video/chaplain/index.html"> alt="2008-08-20-running.jpg"
src="http://images.huffingtonpost.com/2008-08-20-running.jpg"
height="185" width="420">

It should be noted here that the chaplains running with this flag were in violation of Army Regulation 840-10, Chapter 7, Section 5 when they did so. The flag is the Army chaplains flag, a smaller "field" version of the Army chapel flag, a full size flag authorized only for display inside Army chapels. There are only two authorized uses for the Army chaplains flag -- "to designate the time and place of religious service and in the field to indicate the chaplain's quarters or office." But, although running with this flag is a clear violation of AR 840-10, this photo appears on the GoArmy.com website not only in the video, but also as a still image at the top of the Chaplain Basic Officer Leadership Course page.

As for Chaplain McCoy's claim in his statement that Under Orders encourages service members to find faith "of any sort," MRFF isn't buying that either, and neither would anyone else who'd read the book. As I wrote in my previous post, this book is an unabashed promotion of Christianity. The last sentence of the book's introduction is: "Ultimately, I hope we will bring the good news to our world, not my good news, but the good news of the Gospel!" And, while throwing in the occasional assurance that he's not telling his readers what to believe, these assurances are sandwiched between Bible quotes and and a far greater number of statements about the "truth" of the Bible and superiority of Christianity. Clearly, despite Chaplain McCoy's incessant claims that he is merely encouraging soldiers to find faith "of any sort," he is very transparently pushing faith of a particular sort -- his. But, worse than this are the book's insinuations that non-theists are somehow deficient human beings, and that a soldier's lack of spirituality or religion can negatively affect their ability to be an effective team member and can cause the failure of their unit.

Also removed from the Under Orders website was the following audio file of Chaplain McCoy reading an excerpt from the introduction of his book, explaining where the "under orders" idea came from.

There was no need for Chaplain McCoy to remove this audio file from his website. It had nothing to do with the book's endorsements. It was just a two paragraph excerpt from the book. It wouldn't have been the four mentions of Jesus' name in these two paragraphs -- in this book about finding faith "of any sort" -- that led McCoy to remove this file, now would it?

UPDATE: Chaplain McCoy's Under Orders website -- which was at http://www.underorders.info/ -- has now been completely removed.

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