Mr. President-elect: Please Don't Allow Pete Geren To Be Kept On

Reading an article in The Washington Post last week speculating about who will and won't be retained in the incoming administration's Defense Department, I was quite alarmed by the possibility that Preston "Pete" Geren might be kept on as Secretary of the Army.

In 2004, Geren participated in the infamous Pentagon Christian Embassy video, a promotional video filmed inside the Pentagon that, at the request of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), led to an investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General. In July 2007, the IG issued a 45-page report finding seven officers, including four generals, guilty of violating a number of DoD ethics regulations. But, because of the IG's narrow choice of which regulations to focus on, the civilian DoD officials who appeared in the video, including then Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Geren, got off scot free. The civilian officials, of course, were not subject to the ethics regulations regarding the endorsement of a non-federal entity while in uniform. Geren was also exonerated of the charge of using his official position to endorse a non-federal entity because the video did not identify him by his precise title, but only as the "Honorable Pete Geren, Presidential Appointee." The IG also chose to completely evade the issue of religion in its investigation by plucking the catchall words "non-federal entity" from the regulations that were violated, although those same regulations do specifically name certain types of entities that cannot be endorsed by DoD personnel, including sectarian religious organizations. So, even the charges against the military officers who were found guilty were essentially placed on the same level as endorsing a car dealership or some other miscellaneous private enterprise while in uniform. Apparently, the IG just didn't see what the prohibition of government promotions of religion had to do with DoD personnel participating in a fundraising video at the Pentagon promoting a religious organization and a particular religion.

The Christian Embassy endorsed by Secretary Geren in the video is an arm of Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC), a fundamentalist Christian organization whose far reaching Military Ministry has become entrenched in every part of the military. Geren, who was a Congressman from Texas from 1989 to 1997, first became involved with Christian Embassy through their Capitol Hill branch. He continued this relationship when he came to the Pentagon in 2001, joining the organization's Senior Executive Fellowship. To understand why having a Secretary of the Army with long time ties to any part of this organization is of such great concern, here are a few examples showing what the goals of CCC are for our military.

Particularly targeted are basic training installations and the service academies. The following explanation of this "gateway" strategy appeared on CCC's Military Ministry website in 2002:

"Young recruits are under great pressure as they enter the military at their initial training gateways. The demands of drill instructors push recruits and new cadets to the edge. This is why they are most open to the 'good news.' We target specific locations, like Lackland AFB and Fort Jackson, where large numbers of military members transition early in their career. These sites are excellent locations to pursue our strategic goals."

According to Maj. Gen. Bob Dees, U.S. Army (ret.), the Executive Director of CCC's Military Ministry, in the October 2005 issue of the organization's Life and Leadership newsletter:

"We must pursue our particular means for transforming the nation -- through the military. And the military may well be the most influential way to affect that spiritual superstructure. Militaries exercise, generally speaking, the most intensive and purposeful indoctrination program of citizens...."

One of CCC's "strategic goals" is to "Evangelize and Disciple All Enlisted Members of the US Military. Utilize Ministry at each basic training center and beyond. Transform our culture through the US Military." Another goal is to transform the military into a force of "government paid missionaries." Describing the duties of a position at Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston, for example, the Military Ministry website stated:

"Responsibilities include working with Chaplains and Military personnel to bring lost soldiers closer to Christ, build them in their faith and send them out into the world as government paid missionaries."

Similar statements can be found for each of the many CCC Military Ministry many divisions, like this one from their Valor ministry, which targets future officers on ROTC campuses:

"The Valor ROTC cadet and midshipman ministry reaches our future military leaders at their initial entry points on college campuses, helps them grow in their faith, then sends them to their first duty assignments throughout the world as 'government-paid missionaries for Christ.'"

A former CCC program director at the Air Force Academy, Scott Blum, said in a promotional video filmed at the Academy, CCC's purpose is to "make Jesus Christ the issue at the Academy" and for the cadets to be "government paid missionaries" by the time they leave.

Enlisted basic trainees at Fort Jackson, the Army's largest basic training installation, are taught in a CCC program called "God's Basic Training" that "The Military = 'God's Ministers'" and that one of their responsibilities is "To punish those who do evil" as "God's servant, an angel of wrath." The Fort Jackson CCC Military Ministry also had a website on which group photos of trainees with their rifles in one hand and Bibles in the other were posted, with captions such as "This was the first week our recruits brought their rifles with them. This is training to always have your weapon with you. They also proudly display their Sword (Bible)." This website was taken down after being exposed by MRFF.

In a presentation titled "God and the Military," originally released in 1997 by Nelson and Hudson Publishing, and re-released in 2005 for distribution by CCC's Military Ministry, the speaker opens with the following story to an audience of Texas A&M cadets and an assortment of officers from the various branches of the military.

"I, a number of years ago, was speaking at the University of North Texas -- it happens to be my alma mater, up in Denton, Texas -- and I was speaking to an ROTC group up there, and when I stepped in I said, 'It's good to be speaking to all you men and women who are in the ministry,' and they all kind of looked at me, and I think they wondered if maybe I had found the wrong room, or if they were in the wrong room, and I assured them that I was speaking to men and women in the ministry, these that were going to be future officers."

The first question in the study guide that accompanies this video is:

"If you are in the military, then you are also in the m__________."

The discovery of Secretary Geren's participation in the CCC Christian Embassy video was not the first time that this DoD official was encountered by MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein. In 2005, Geren was Acting Secretary of the Air Force, overseeing the Air Force's less than adequate response to Weinstein's allegations of non-Christian cadets at the Air Force Academy, including his own sons, being severely pressured and harassed by evangelical Christians.

This is Weinstein's account of his 2005 interaction with Geren:

"In July of 2005, the Air Force's Deputy Chief of the Chaplains Corps, Brig. Gen. Cecil R. Richardson, boldly asserted in a front page story in the New York Times that the Air Force's official policy would continue to be to reserve its right 'to evangelize the unchurched.' I immediately registered my shock, telephonically, directly with Acting USAF Secretary Geren. Further, I demanded that the Air Force immediately retract this completely unconstitutional religious policy statement of evangelical Christian supremacy, which must have been vetted beforehand, as it had appeared in the New York Times -- the one newspaper most despised by the Pentagon.

"Geren and I spoke several times on the phone over the next several weeks. What disturbed me the most was that he was absolutely clueless as to the constitutional illegality of his service's ignominious declaration/intention of evangelizing the unchurched. I even hired a law firm to press our demand of official retraction. Our legal team actually met with Geren in his Pentagon office and delivered my message of 'take back what you said or we'll sue you in federal court' to both Geren and the USAF General Counsel, who also attended. They kept telling us to wait while they pondered our demand. We did wait. After the eighty-eighth day passed, I gave them something new to ponder; how to reply to the federal lawsuit we hit them with. Sixteen months later, when MRFF saw that Geren was a star in the now infamous Christian Embassy video, none of us were surprised at all, given what had transpired with Geren's leadership malfeasance vis-a-vis the prior dustup just described. Keeping him on as Army Secretary is a travesty of unimaginable magnitude."

Another area of concern are the indications that Geren, like many who subscribe to the views of organizations such as CCC, may see the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a religious struggle, and that our own religious freedom here in America is somehow dependent on victory in these Muslim countries. There were strong signs of a belief in this specious threat to religious freedom in America in the considerable amount of attention devoted to the subject by Geren in his commencement address at this year's West Point graduation.

Geren began this part of his address with the words "Thomas Jefferson would understand the threat we face today -- tyranny in the name of religion," quoted a few words from Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and then continued:

"Jefferson's ideal of religious freedom and individual liberty stands in stark contrast to the malignant vision of religious oppression and the murderous practices of the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- to the hatred that murdered 3,000 people on 9/11 and continues its butchery today.

"Two hundred years after Jefferson penned these words, your sons and daughters are fighting to protect our citizens and people around the world from zealots who would 'restrain,' 'molest,' 'burden' and cause to 'suffer' those who do not share their religious beliefs, deny us whom they call 'infidels' our unalienable rights: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

"Your sons and daughters -- our Soldiers -- stand against a threat to liberty and life that is as old as civilization, in a cause that shaped the foundation of our Nation, and against an enemy that seeks to take us back to the future, and establish an old world order of darkness and oppression. ..."

Geren was named Acting Secretary of the Army by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in March 2007, while the DoD Inspector General's investigation of the Christian Embassy was still going on. Geren was then nominated by Bush as Secretary of the Army, and confirmed by the Senate on July 13, 2007 -- a week prior to the release of the IG's report that, as explained above, let Geren off the hook. The timing of this raises questions as to whether or not the outcome of the IG's investigation would have had any effect whatsoever on Geren's nomination had the IG not exonerated him, considering that the officers who were found guilty didn't even get a slap on the wrist. In fact, several of them were quickly promoted, most notably Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen.

Despite the IG's recommendation that that "appropriate corrective action" be taken against Caslen, a brigadier general at the time of the Christian Embassy scandal, no action at all was taken. Caslen remained in his position of Commandant of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point until May 2, 2008. His promotion to major general was confirmed by Senate on April 29, 2008, and he was appointed to the prestigious position of Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division.

During Caslen's tenure as Commandant of Cadets at West Point, MRFF was flooded with reports from cadets of increased religious pressure at the Academy, and a June 2008 New York Times article about religion at the service academies reported that the seven cadets, two officers, and a former chaplain interviewed for the article "said that religion, especially evangelical Christianity, was a constant at the academy," but that "most of their complaints center on Maj. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, until recently the academy's top military leader..."

Caslen, who, in the Christian Embassy video said of the organization's Flag Officers' Fellowship, "we're the aroma of Jesus Christ," is also the current president of the Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF), an organization consisting of about 15,000 officers, with chapters on virtually every U.S. military installation worldwide.

The stated mission of the OCF, which not only endorses CCC's Military Ministry overall but has entered into a partnership with its Valor ROTC ministry, is to:

"Create a spiritually transformed U.S. military, with Ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit."

With Secretary Gates staying on in the new administration, MRFF is strongly requesting that both President-elect Obama and his Defense Secretary make a serious effort to rid our military of unconstitutional religious activity, and to weed out those DoD officials who have been complicit in promoting or endorsing what has in recent years evolved into a full-fledged constitutionally prohibited religious test for countless members of our armed forces.

Replacing Secretary Geren would be a very good start.