A Georgia church’s request for a U.S. Army honor guard in its Independence Day ceremony has been denied.
The Abilene Baptist Church, provided with an honor guard each Independence Day for almost 20 years, was told that the practice goes against a military policy regarding religious service.
Public Affairs Officer J.C. Mathews told Fox News that a review by officials at Fort Gordon led to the decision.
“While there are conditions under which the Army can participate in events conducted at a house of worship, we cannot participate in the context of a religious service,” Mathews said.
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Brad Whitt, Abilene Baptist Church pastor, said the church was attempting to honor members of the military.
“It was an absolute shock,” he said. "What a sad commentary on the state of affairs in America — when we cannot even allow the flags to fly if they are in a church building.”
Fort Gordon cited a 2011 Army Regulation, 360-1, in its reasoning. According to the regulation, army participation in religious services is barred if a selective benefit to a religious group is perceived. The regulation also denies army participation if it is an endorsement to a religious organization.
In 2007, the Abilene Baptist Church Independence Day celebration was determined to be a “non-sectarian musical and patriotic program.”
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An honor guard was sent to the church’s service last year, which was held in a local park.
“Because this was not a religious service, our participation was permitted,” Mathews said about the 2007 service.
The church’s ceremony this year will be a “God and Country” celebration, with a Sunday picnic following the service, Fox News reported.
The Abilene Baptist Church was founded in 1774. The church’s first pastor, the Rev. Loveless Savage, was a chaplain in the Revolutionary Army, according to the church’s website.