Graham Prays Outside Pentagon After Being Barred
Andrea Stone Senior Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (May 6) -- Evangelist Franklin Graham went to the Pentagon this morning to pray, unbowed after Army officials told him he couldn't come inside to lead today's National Day of Prayer service because of his comments about Islam.
Graham, his wife and three others prayed for about five minutes outside the Pentagon before visiting the nearby 9/11 Memorial and answering reporters' questions. He thanked President Barack Obama for issuing a National Day of Prayer proclamation and for instructing the Justice Department to challenge a federal court ruling that declared the event unconstitutional.
But Graham did not back down from the views about Islam -- that it is an "evil" religion -- that got him booted in the first place.
Rev. Franklin Graham
Cliff Owen, AP
The Rev. Franklin Graham speaks with reporters Thursday after praying in a Pentagon parking lot.
"Muslims don't agree with the Christian faith so we have honest disagreements," he said, adding that he is "not out crusading" against Islam and has only spoken out when questioned by reporters. Noting that the Pentagon has held Ramadan services, he said, "I don't complain about those and they ought to have Christian services."
Graham was asked by Pentagon reporters how he would feel if his son Edward, an Army captain now serving in Afghanistan, was wounded in combat and only a Muslim chaplain were nearby to pray with him. "Look, we're human beings," Graham said. "I would be thankful that someone cared enough to reach out to my son, regardless of what the person's faith was."
Graham then left the Pentagon reservation for a congressional prayer service on Capitol Hill sponsored by the same Colorado-based group that originally organized the Pentagon event. Three dozen members of Congress wrote, unsuccessfully, to Defense Secretary Robert Gates urging him to re-invite Graham to the Pentagon observance.
Given the publicity surrounding the Pentagon event, Army officials might not be blamed for praying this day would be over after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation complained that Graham crossed a line by sharply criticizing Islam.
The son of famed evangelist Billy Graham was to lead a prayer service inside the military headquarters today that was sponsored by the Christian National Day of Prayer Task Force (NDPTF). But Army leaders decided Graham, who also said Muslims were "enslaved" by their religion, was way off-message at a time when U.S. troops are trying to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. The prayer task force, which remained a sponsor of the Capitol Hill prayer service and hundreds of others across the country, pulled out of the military event.
Army Col. Thomas E. Preston, a Protestant chaplain and executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplain Board, filled in for Graham as the main speaker at the morning Pentagon prayer service. The program also included prayers from Catholic, Jewish and Muslim chaplains, who were hastily added to the program after the NDPTF dropped out.
Graham had hoped to pray inside the Pentagon today and personally appealed to Obama during a meeting last month at his father's North Carolina home. The president, who prayed with the ailing elder Graham, reportedly said he would "look into it."
But the president apparently has had other things on his plate.
"President Obama is proud to observe the National Day of Prayer and signed a Day of Prayer proclamation," said White House spokesman Shin Inouye when asked if the president had interceded on Graham's behalf. "He also recently hosted many Christian leaders at the White House for a celebration of prayer at Easter time."
When it became clear earlier this week that the president had taken no action, Graham sounded off in an interview with USA Today. If Obama didn't intervene, "it will be a slap in the face of all Christians," he said. In remarks to the conservative website Newsmax, he accused the government of restricting his "religious rights" and warned of a growing "secularization."
Compared to other presidents, Obama isn't much of a church-goer. But the president hasn't shut out religion, preferring a more ecumenical approach than Graham, who told USA Today that "mainstream evangelicals" have gotten little respect from this White House.
Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation made no mention of a specific deity, a stark contrast to the "statement of faith" by the NDPTF requiring event planners to sign to be listed on its website. Whereas Graham, an honorary chairman of the task force, this week mocked Hindu beliefs, Obama has observed that religion's festival of Diwali. He has also hosted a Ramadan dinner and Passover seders. And he has met Pope Benedict XVI.
Obama is to meet with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan today. No prayer day events are listed on his official schedule.
A new Gallup Poll shows most Americans either support or are not bothered by the annual National Day of Prayer. When asked whether promoting Christian prayer should be a major goal of the events, 62 percent said yes.
While a majority of Americans aren't bothered by Graham's sectarian preferences, Michael Cromartie of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center said Graham should apologize for his comments about Islam.
Noting that his father had apologized for anti-Semitic remarks he once made, Cromartie said Graham should, "realize the majority of Muslims around the world are not violent and do not want to kill innocent people, and acknowledge that many people misrepresent Christianity in ways that are more than a little embarrassing to followers of Christ. He should stop playing the victim, be more humble, and repent of past mistakes."