Officials at the Air Force Academy have issued an apology to its cadets for an e-mail encouraging them to support Operation Christmas Child.
Last week, Academy cadets received an e-mail encouraging them to support the Christian-affiliated toy drive, which is sponsored by Franklin Grahamâ€™s Samaritanâ€™s Purse. The e-mail, which was sent by cadets, should have been sent through the Chaplain Corps, as it is â€œresponsible for advertising faith-based programs and events,â€ the Academy stated in a press release.
“This was an oversight by me that has been addressed and forwarded through the proper channels,” Brig. Gen. Richard Clark said. “The cadets had nothing but good intentions, but this was something that should have started with the Chaplains, not the Cadet Wing. That doesn’t mean the cadets can’t volunteer for the Christmas toy drive; they can participate through the Cadet Chaplain Corps.â€
By November 2, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) had been contacted by more than 130 cadets and faculty members about the e-mail, the majority of whom were Protestants or Catholics, said MRFF president Michael Weinstein. Weinstein filed a complaint on behalf of those who had contacted him, and the following evening, the Air Force issued an apology.
The controversy shows the cultural shift happening in the U.S., said Jordan Sekulow, executive director for the American Center for Law and Justice. â€œThis is a perfect example of how heartless these groups are when it comes to defending their anti-religion position,â€ Sekulow told Fox News. â€œItâ€™s not about the First Amendment. Itâ€™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].â€
Weinstein said the issue was not about the toys, but the evangelical message that is included in the gifts, and promoting that violates the First Amendment. â€œWe are not trying to take shoe boxes of toys and candy away from kids,â€ he said. â€œBut this is clearly an egregious Constitutional mistake.â€
He was also concerned because of OCCâ€™s ties to Franklin Graham, who leads Samaritanâ€™s Purse. â€œGraham is a fundamentalist â€“ a total enemy of the Constitution â€“ an absolutely incredible Islamophobe,â€ Weinstein said.
Graham made headlines in 2010 after he was disinvited from a Pentagon prayer service because of comments he had made about Islam, saying it was evil and offensive. He was slated to be the lead speaker at the event, but several groups raised objections to his appearance.
At the time, Graham said there would be increasing levels of secular repression. “Oh, no question. It’s coming,” Graham said in an interview with Newsmax Television. “I think when you preach that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, I think we’re going to see one day that people will say this is hate speech.”
A spokesman for Graham said Graham was traveling overseas and had not issued a comment. Operation Christmas Child has distributed 86 million shoe boxes for children for Christmas since Samaritan’s Purse launched the program in 1993.