Evangelist Franklin Graham won't speak at Pentagon prayer event

Franklin Graham had made remarks about Islam that Muslims and others said were insulting. The Pentagon rescinded his invitation to speak at a May 6 event.

Todd Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Newscom
Franklin Graham spoke at the reopening ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday. The Pentagon rescinded his invitation to speak at a prayer event next month.

Muslim and military groups are applauding the Army’s decision to disinvite evangelist Franklin Graham to a prayer event because of his comments about Islam.

“We applaud this decision as a victory for common sense and good judgment,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Promoting one’s own religious beliefs is something to be defended and encouraged, but other faiths should not be attacked or misrepresented in the process.”

The Army had invited Mr. Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, to participate in a prayer event at the Pentagon May 6. But a military group, as well as others like CAIR, had protested the decision based on remarks Graham had made in the past about Islam.

He has said that while he likes Muslims, he doesn’t like the religion for the way it treats women and doesn’t like Islam’s “persecution or elimination” of other religions. In the past, he has referred to Islam as "an evil religion."

“When you look at Islam, I love the people of Islam, but the religion, I do not agree with the religion at all,” Graham said on Fox News. “When you look at what the religion does to women and women alone, it is just horrid. So I speak out for women, I speak out for people who live under Islam who are enslaved under Islam and want them to know that they can be free.”

The Obama administration's view

Few of those sentiments square with the way the Obama administration, if not the Bush administration before it, views Islam. The American government has long drawn a distinction between Muslim fundamentalism and the Muslim religion, taking pains to embrace Islam generally as it wages a war on terrorism, aiming at Islamic extremists.

Indeed, in his speech in Cairo last year, President Obama attempted to allay fears that the US has any argument with the religion itself. As a Christian, Mr. Obama said, he has experienced the Muslim religion around the world, first as a boy who lived in Indonesia for several years.

“That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t,” Obama said. “I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.”

Pentagon said remarks 'not appropriate'

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which believes the military should be free from the influences of religion, let alone any particular denomination, had raised objections to Graham’s participation in the prayer event. Ultimately, the Army agreed. Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for the Amy, told the Associated Press that Graham’s remarks were “not appropriate.”

Graham expressed disappointment. “I regret that the Army felt it was necessary to rescind their invitation to the National Day of Prayer Task Force to participate in the Pentagon’s special prayer service," Graham said in a statement Thursday. “I want to express my strong support for the United States military and all our troops.”

Shirley Dobson, wife of conservative Christian leader James Dobson, also weighed in, saying the prayer event itself is “under attack.”

“Enough is enough,” she said. “We at the National Day of Prayer Task Force ask the American people to defend the right to pray in the Pentagon.” The Army was careful to point out that the prayer event itself would go on as planned.

Last week, a federal judge declared that the US law authorizing a National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional.

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