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During a recent budget hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-4th, accused the Obama administration of waging war against religious expression in the military.
"I believe the impact of this administration’s fiscal cuts to our national security are unwise and will have long-lasting repercussions," he told U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on April 11.
"But I also believe this administration’s attacks on faith, religious freedom and religious liberty in the military are also unwise and will have long-lasting repercussions," the congressman said.
Forbes, who is founder and chairman of the 94-member Congressional Prayer Caucus, cited several examples that have convinced him religious expression by service members is being suppressed. One, in particular, stood out.
"We’ve had a training program, which I have given you a copy of, where we list evangelical Christians, Catholics and Mormons in the same category of religious extremism as we do al-Qaida," Forbes told Hagel.
The statement gained Forbes interviews on WAVY-TV10 in Norfolk and on Fox News, which put up a screen headline saying, "Military calls evangelicals ‘terrorists.’" So we decided to check whether the armed forces had such a training program.
Sergio Gor, Forbes’ spokesman, sent us news stories that ran around April 5 in The Washington Times, The Daily Mail in London, The Navy News and the Catholic News Agency. They concerned an offensive computer slide on Page 24 of a U.S. Army Reserve training presentation titled "Extremism and Extremist Organizations."
Gor also sent us a picture of the slide, which in blue capital letters at the top, is titled "Religious Extremism." Seventeen groups are listed underneath. Evangelical Christianity topped the list, followed by Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful political group in Egypt. Beside each listing, the slide notes the nation and the religion that spawns the supposedly extremist group.
The list includes Catholicism, ultra-orthodox Judaism and Sunni Islam in addition to the Ku Klux Klan and several groups that are recognized as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department: al-Qaida, Hamas in Palestine, Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines and the Kahane movement in Israel.
Contrary to Forbes’ statement, mainstream Mormons are not cited for extremism. But a split-off polygamist sect, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is.
Forbes, at the hearing and in TV interviews, gave the impression that the training materials were widely used and sanctioned by the Army. He told Fox News, "They’re training troops before the go to Afghanistan, and they were training them that evangelical Christians, Catholics and Mormons were in the same category with Hamas, al-Qaida and the Ku Klux Klan, and that’s just appalling."
But there’s another side to this story that Forbes didn’t mention, a part that was well-documented in the news stories his office sent to us.
The offending slide was used a year ago at a briefing held for an Army Reserves Unit in Pennsylvania. An Army spokesman said the person who created and presented the slideshow, whom the service will not identify by name, was not a "subject matter expert."
The Army said the presenter, upon receiving a single complaint, apologized and deleted the slide. "The slide was not produced by the Army and certainly does not reflect our policy or doctrine," the Army said in a statement. "It was produced without anyone in the chain of command’s knowledge or permission."
The Archdiocese for the Military Services released a statement April 4 saying it was "astounded that Catholics were listed alongside groups that are, by their very mission and nature, violent and extremist."
The Archdiocese also said the training "appears to be an isolated incident not condoned by the Department of the Army." It called on the Defense Department to "ensure that taxpayer funds are never again used to present blatantly anti-religious material to the men and women in uniform."
Forbes, at a military budget hearing, said "We’ve had a training program ... where we list evangelical Christians, Catholics and Mormons in the same category of religious extremism as we do al-Qaida."
This did happen in at least one briefing at a reserve center in Pennsylvania. The Army says it was a mistake -- made by an individual, not the command -- that was corrected upon the first complaint. Forbes, while offering no contrary information, made sweeping statements that suggest the training program was widespread and officially sanctioned. He also misread one entry on the list as Mormons, when, in fact, it named a small sect that practices polygamy.
Forbes’ statement has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. That makes it Mostly False.
House Armed Services Committee, Budget hearing, April 11, 2013 (Forbes comments begin about 1 hour and 23 minutes into the tape).
WAVY-TV10, "Forbes questions Hagel on faith," April 11, 2013.
Emails from Forbes spokesman Sergio Gor, April 16 and 17, 2013.
Catholic News Agency, "Military archdiocese objects to Catholic ‘extremist’ label," April 9, 2013.
NavyTimes, "Training material listing Catholics as ‘extremists’ angers archdiocese," April 5, 2013.
The Washington Times, "Defense Department classifies Catholics, evangelicals as extremists," April 5, 2013.
Christian News Network, "Congress Calls Upon Army to Rescind Briefing Classifying Christianity as ‘Religious Extremism’," April 21, 2013.
Christian News Network, "Army Training Classifies Evangelical Christianity as ‘Religious Extremism’ Along With Al Qaeda, Hamas," April 7, 2013.
Alliance Defending Freedom, copy of PowerPoint presentation with the questionable slide, accessed April 22, 2013.
The Indian Express, "Sri Ram Sene activists attack SP office in Delhi," Oct. 27, 2008.
CBS News, "From Hunting Ground to Polygamist Ranch," Feb. 11, 2009.
GoSanAngelo.com, "Nine more indictments issued against FLDS members," Nov. 12, 2008.
State Department, "Foreign Terrorist Organizations," accessed April 29, 2013.
National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism, Terrorist Organization Profile: Army of God, accessed April 29, 2013.
FBI, "The Dallas Division: A Brief History," accessed April 29, 2013.
Anti-Defamation League, "About the Ku Klux Klan," accessed April 29, 2013.
YouTube, "Congressman Forbes Joins Fox & Friends to Discuss Religious Liberty," April 22, 2013.
Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, "AMS Calls on U.S. Defense Department to Review Army Reserve Training Material for Anti-Religious Content," April 4, 2013.
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