Pentagon probes Christian video

The Pentagon’s inspector general is looking into a promotional video that shows generals in uniform endorsing a Christian group that caters to political and military leaders, a spokesman said.

A watchdog group asked for a formal investigation into circumstances surrounding the video promoting the Christian Embassy, saying the role played by seven army and air force general violated military regulations.

"High level army and air force officials appearing in uniform, in the Pentagon touting the Christian embassy implies a government endorsement of the organization and its sectarian religious mission," the Military Religious Freedom Foundation wrote in demanding the investigation.

The group, founded by a retired air force lawyer, was formed initially to challenge the proselytizing of cadets at the Air Force Academy by Christian evangelicals with the support of senior officers.

The Pentagon’s inspector general was looking into the group’s letter but had not decided whether to investigate, said Major Stuart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

"The Department of Defense does not endorse any religion, religious activity or religious organization," Upton said. "That said we do … provide opportunities for service members to practice their faiths."

He said based on an initial review of the video "it appears a disclaimer is warranted in regards to specifying no endorsement by the Department of Defense."

"There are other things that are going to be looked at," he said.

The Christian Embassy describes itself on its website as a "non-political, multi-denominational ministry that has been caring for, encouraging and equipping our country’s leaders and decision-makers for nearly 30 years."

Among other things, the group says it conducts weekly prayer breakfasts in the Pentagon’s executive dinning room.

In the video, which was made in 2005, generals and senior Pentagon civilian officials give on camera testimonials praising the Christian Embassy.

Unidentified military personnel are shown in Bible study sessions and parts of the video were filmed at the Pentagon.

Major General Jack Catton says on camera that as a director of the Joint Staff he tells those he meets "I’m an old fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family, then my country."

"I would say Christian Embassy, in my interaction with other flag officers, has helped inspire some of that, you know, we talk about that kind of stuff, and I think it’s a huge impact because you have many men and women who are seeking God’s counsel and wisdom as we advise the chairman and the secretary of defense. Hallelujah," he said.

Rules prohibit military personnel from wearing their uniform when making public speeches unless they have been authorized. They also are required to include disclaimers in unofficial writings or speeches stating that the views expressed are their own and do not reflect those of the government.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse