Army retreats from presentation labeling Christians 'hate groups'
by Michael Cochrane
Posted 10/21/13, 02:00 pm
The U.S. Army last week acknowledged that a diversity training presented to soldiers at Camp Shelby, Miss., mischaracterized the American Family Association (AFA) as a “hate group.”
An Oct. 15 email sent by an official Army spokesman to the AFA stated that the slide presentation referencing the AFA as a hate group “was not produced by the Army and does not reflect our policy or doctrine.”
The email further stated that the information in the training briefing “was not pulled from official Army sources, nor was it approved by senior Army leaders, senior equal opportunity counselors, or judge-advocate personnel.”
The soldier who prepared the briefing material apparently cited the so-called “hate map” posted online by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC website lists the term “anti-gay” as a criterion for inclusion in its hate group list, which includes Christian organizations such as the AFA and the Family Research Council (FRC). The SPLC’s “Anti-Gay” website names Focus on the Family founder James Dobson alongside an undocumented photo depicting Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church.
This is not the first time military personnel have been subjected to a presentation that equates Christian groups with terrorist organizations. Earlier this year, a U.S. Army Reserve training brief on extremism and extremist organizations put evangelical Christianity at the top of the list of groups soldiers should watch out for, and avoid. As in this case, Army officials blamed the presentation on one soldier who acted without his superiors’ knowledge.
In response to the Army’s statement, Tim Wildmon, president of the AFA, said, “We appreciate the actions that the U.S. Army has taken in the past couple of days, but there is more to be done to end the spreading of these untruths once and for all. We are appalled that the U.S. Army would use information that they ‘found on the Internet’ to train our soldiers and require them to sit through a training that doesn’t seem to apply to anything that the Army should be concerning themselves with in the first place.”
The AFA believes this is not an isolated situation and with the help of Liberty Institute, a legal group that advocates for religious liberty, has initiated a Freedom of Information Act request asking the Army to provide any and all materials “relating to U.S. Army Equal Opportunity training or Diversity training that include references to the Family Research Council, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, or similar organizations.”
Mike Berry, an attorney with Liberty Institute, said his group is investigating what happened: “We’re in the process of conducting a thorough investigation and once we get all the facts and have figured out just exactly what happened, we will take appropriate legal action.”
Wildmon emphasized that the AFA “doesn’t hate anyone.”
“Disagreement about the normalizing of homosexual behavior is not hate,” he said. “It is simply disagreement.”
Michael is a retired Defense Department engineer and former Army officer who is an adjunct professor of engineering management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MFCochrane.