WASHINGTON (April 26) -- A Muslim civil liberties group urged Congress to disinvite evangelist Franklin Graham from a prayer event, just days after the Pentagon booted the minister from another gathering because of his anti-Islam remarks.
Graham is scheduled to attend the congressional National Day of Prayer event on Capitol Hill on May 6. He was to have led services at the Pentagon the same day but was told last week that he was no longer welcome after Army leaders decided his comments that Islam is a "very evil and wicked religion" were a problem. Graham refused to back down, saying on Fox News that Muslims were "enslaved" by their beliefs.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations "supports the desirable goal of bringing Americans, regardless of their faith traditions, together in prayer," said Corey Saylor, the group's national legislative director. "However, a congressional prayer observance should reflect the best of our nation's ideals. Speakers such as Franklin Graham reflect a message of religious intolerance, rather than the more American message of differing faiths united in shared support of our nation's founding principles."
In a message to supporters on his website, Graham thanked "the many thousands of believers" who have offered support since he was ousted from the Pentagon event, saying, "Recent events have demonstrated just how desperately our nation needs to turn to God." He said he would "be leading many in prayer at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C., and I hope millions more will be joining us at prayer events throughout the nation."
A spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus and the sponsor for the last two years of the congressional National Day of Prayer observance, said he will not rescind Graham's invitation.
D.J. Jordan, Aderholt's spokesman, said Focus on the Family founder James Dobson would take part in the Capitol Hill service, as would his wife's group, the National Day of Prayer Task Force. The task force -- whose mission is to "publicize and preserve America's Christian heritage" -- pulled out of the Pentagon event after Graham was uninvited. Shirley Dobson blamed "atheist groups" for what she called an "assault on religious freedom and people of faith."
Aderholt and other members of Congress have spoken out against a ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin that found the National Day of Prayer first authorized by President Harry Truman to be unconstitutional.
President Barack Obama has said his administration will appeal the ruling. On Sunday, he demonstrated his personal respect for the importance of prayer by visiting and praying with ailing evangelist and presidential adviser Billy Graham at his North Carolina home. Franklin Graham, Billy's son, was also at the meeting.
According to The Associated Press, Franklin Graham said he spoke briefly to the president about the Pentagon controversy. "I wanted to make him aware of that," the younger Graham said. "He said he would look into it."
"We're not commenting on what was discussed in a private conversation," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "No one here is organizing the Hill prayer event."
Army spokesman Wayne Hall declined to comment on whether the White House had contacted the Pentagon chaplain's office. "It would be inappropriate for the Army to discuss executive communications between the White House and Army leadership," he said.
Hall said the Pentagon National Day of Prayer service is still planned for next week. No replacement speaker has been named.
Mikey Weinstein, whose Military Religious Freedom Foundation originated the protest over Franklin Graham's involvement in the Pentagon event, said his group doesn't get involved in issues beyond the armed forces. But he called it an "extremely huge mistake" for any branch of government to put its imprimatur on Franklin Graham, whom he calls an "Islamophobe, an anti-Muslim bigot and an international representative of the scourge of fundamentalist Christian supremacy."
As for Obama's reported promise to "look into" the Pentagon's decision, Weinstein said: "Our strongest hope is he was saying it the same way that somebody smiles and says, 'Yes,' to crazy Aunt Bertha in the attic, 'Of course, we'll bring up milk and cookies for the Martians who visit you each night.' "
(It's worth noting that the older, Billy Graham, disagrees with his son about Muslims and has reported to say nice things about Muslims.)