The Air Force Academy apologized Thursday night for promoting Operation Christmas Child, a program designed to send holiday gifts to impoverished children around the world.
Mikey Weinstein, of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said the military crossed the line when they promoted the gift program, sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, an organization run by the Rev. Franklin Graham.
Operation Christmas Child planned to send more than 8 million shoe box gifts to underprivileged children in 100 countries. An evangelical Christian message is also included in the boxes.
“This is a proselytizing entity of Franklin Graham,” said Weinstein. He filed a complaint on behalf of 132 Academy personnel including two sets of Muslim-American parents.
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Oddly, conservatives have blamed President Obama who has nothing to do with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) told Fox News: “This is beyond political correctness. This is an anti-faith mode that we see over and over again coming from this administration and the people serving in it.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox News that this is evidence that the Obama administration “has engaged in a culture war beyond measure. We see here the collateral damage – the fallout of religious freedom and the attack on Christian organizations that are simply reaching out to help those in need. This is a long pattern under this administration under a president who apologized for everything that is American.”
“It’s so outrageous,” said Jordan Sekulow an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice. “This is a perfect example of how heartless these groups are when it comes to defending their anti-religion position. It’s not about the First Amendment. It’s about a real hatred of religious people and people of faith that they would go so far as to stop an assistance program like Operation Christmas Child.”
Weinstein refuted that allegation: “We are not trying to take shoe boxes of toys and candy away from kids. But this is clearly an egregious Constitutional mistake.”
Weinstein said he was alerted to the program on Wednesday after he was notified by an upset cadet: “The cadet sent an e-mail saying, ‘This just shows how our military is supporting one religion – which is Christianity."
He later received a telephone call from Brig. Gen. Richard Clark, the Academy’s commandant of cadets, to apologize: “He said it was a mistake and he would fix it. Lady Liberty is smiling tonight. This is a victory for the Constitution.”
“We agree that it was inappropriate,” Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan told the Colorado Gazette. He told the newspaper that the initial e-mail was sent by cadets without the knowledge of senior leaders.
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Weinstein said he doesn’t have a problem with secular toy drives, but Graham’s, he said, crossed the line. He argued that Operation Christmas Child should have been promoted through the Academy’s chaplains – not the entire Academy. And that’s exactly where the project rests – in the hands of the chaplains.
“The kids will still get their toys,” he said acknowledging that it will only be promoted to a smaller subset of people.