U.S. Army chaplains produced encouraging videos and posted them to their brigade’s Facebook page, but they were removed just hours later after one group complained, arguing the posts violated religious freedom.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade in Fort Drum, New York, after announcing it had received complaints about the faith-based videos.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of MRFF, sent a letter to the brigade, demanding the “illicit proselytizing videos” by chaplains Amy Smith and Scott Ingram be removed from the Army Facebook page.
Rather than being posted on the brigade’s main page, MRFF contended the prayerful clips should have been hosted on the Facebook account for the Fort Drum Chapel.
Weinstein seemed to take particular issue with one video in which Smith encouraged members of the Fort Drum community to visit the campus Labyrinth.
“It’s going to feel like you are walking in circles, but sometimes in life, that is what you feel like,” she explained. “Sometimes, you will be toward the outside. At times in our walk with God, we can be asking God, ‘Where are you? Where are you in the midst of this COVID-19?’ Other times, you will be more toward the center, and you can hear God’s voice, and you can hear Him and you can sense Him, even in the midst of all the craziness that is going on with all the worry, fear, and anxiety.”
The MRFF leader said he was greatly bothered by that video, because Smith “exhorts soldiers to query God as to where God is during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
In another video posted April 2, Ingram cited Isaiah 41, encouraging viewers to put their trust in God in the midst of such uncertainty.
“Change is never easy,” he said, “but together, we can walk forward in supernatural strength in the confidence that we are not forsaken.”
Weinstein ultimately thanked the Army brigade for removing the videos, but reprimanded the chaplains for having posted them in the first place, arguing they should have known better than to ever publish faith-based content on a U.S. military Facebook page.
He went on to explain he was “NOT so pleased” the “unconstitutional religious videos” were ever viewable on the brigade’s Facebook page.
“MRFF and its military clients would greatly prefer that the Army would have taken this action sua sponte (‘ON ITS OWN’), without having to cause MRFF to make these obviously valid demands to ensure church-state separation in the first place on behalf of aggrieved Army personnel who justly fear reprisal, retribution, revenge and retaliation for taking their grievances up the chain of command,” Weinstein said.
This is not the first time the MRFF has targeted prayer in the military.
For example, in the summer of 2016, the MRFF urged the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate several Christian military chaplains, saying they violated federal rules by praying publicly while in uniform at an event promoting religious liberty.
Then, last spring, the MRFF successfully forced the removal of a World War II-era Bible from a veterans’ hospital display in Manchester, New Hampshire. Weinstein argued the exhibit, intended to honor the nation’s POWs, emphasized “one faith over another faith.”
Weinstein added that he issued the letter to the VA hospital after receiving complaints from 14 veterans, one of whom was suicidal. The Bible’s presence in the hospital, he claimed, was “pushing him closer” to committing suicide.
Veteran Paul Martin, whose Northeast POW-MIA Network was responsible for the faith-based display, defended the exhibit, saying, “That Bible is not just a religious artifact — that some people would say they’re stuffing religion down my throat.”
“What it means is this guy held on to a lot of faith and hope, family and trust in this nation that they would do everything they possibly could to bring him home,” he said.