WASHINGTON -- A controversial pastor with a history of exaggerating his background is no longer scheduled to be the featured speaker at Wednesday's Pentagon Prayer Breakfast after the Military Religious Freedom Foundation drew attention to his checkered past.
As first reported by The Huffington Post on Monday, Ray Giunta -- co-founder of We Care Ministries -- was scheduled to appear at the Pentagon's weekly event on Wednesday morning.
In 2008, however, the Las Vegas Sun did a lengthy profile on Giunta, reporting that his past escapades included illegally taking $10,200 from a cemetery board, falsely claiming to have advanced degrees and allegedly diagnosing young people as having mental disorders -- despite not being a doctor.
Michael Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, demanded that the Pentagon revoke its invitation to the man he described to The Huffington Post as a "well-known Christian fundamentalist scam artist."
When asked by The Huffington Post about the decision to bring in Giunta and MRFF's demand that his invitation be withdrawn, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon responded on Monday afternoon, "The Office of the Pentagon Chaplain supports the free exercise of religion of all faith groups represented by Pentagon personnel and regularly invites speakers from diverse faith groups to speak about their experiences and perspectives to Pentagon employees."
But on Tuesday morning, the Office of the Chaplain at the Pentagon sent a revised invitation to the prayer breakfast saying that Giunta was no longer going to speak. From the email:
This message is sent on behalf of the Office of the Pentagon Chaplain.
You are cordially invited to attend a Prayer Breakfast in the Pentagon
Library Conference Center.
MR. RAY GIUNTA IS NOT AVAILABLE TO SPEAK AT TOMORROW'S PRAYER. THE EVENT WILL OCCUR BUT WILL INCLUDE THE USUAL RELIGIOUS EDUCATION PROGRAM.
DATE/TIME: Wednesday, 28 November 2012
LOCATION: Pentagon Library Conference Center, B6
Everyone is welcome; no RSVP is required. A continental breakfast will be provided.
On Tuesday, Foreign Policy's Situation Report also reported that an Army spokesman now said Giunta would no longer be a featured speaker at the event.
"Mr. Giunta has respectfully declined the invitation to speak," said the spokesman as quoted in the Situation Report. "The Pentagon Prayer Breakfast is a weekly event and will go on as scheduled."
The Pentagon did not immediately return a request for additional comment. Attempts to reach Giunta for comment have been unsuccessful.
MRFF raised concerns about Giunta's scheduled appearance on behalf of 211 members of the armed forces. Of those who brought the issue to MRFF's attention, 189 are practicing Protestants or Roman Catholics.
Weinstein said that while he is "absolutely delighted" that Giunta will no longer be appearing at the breakfast, MRFF is far from satisfied.
"We will not ... 'congratulate' the Pentagon for honoring MRFF's direct demand to terminate Giunta's privileged speaking engagement," Weinstein said. "Quite on the contrary, in fact. On behalf of MRFF's 211 armed forces clients at the Pentagon who came to us in fear and desperation for MRFF's intercession to stop this terrible travesty, MRFF renews its demand to the Pentagon to aggressively and expeditiously investigate the specifics of how and why this well-established Christian religious extremist scam artist was given the honor to speak in the first place. Any and all who bear responsibility must be severely and publicly punished."
A major who works on the Army staff at the Pentagon and is one of MRFF's clients told The Huffington Post on Monday that he was deeply disturbed by the invitation to Giunta because of the larger message it conveyed and the harm it could do to the Defense Department. He requested anonymity for fear of repercussions.
"My concern is that we're going to ruin the Pentagon's reputation, the DOD reputation, for the sake of this guy," said the major on Monday. "With the way things are with budget cuts and everything else going on, we can't afford to sully our reputation -- certainly not by associating with folks like this."
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