Controversial Las Vegas pastor Ray Giunta has dropped out of his speaking engagement at Wednesday's weekly Pentagon Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., reportedly "respectfully declining" to attend the event for unspecified reasons.
"Mr. Giunta has respectfully declined the invitation to speak. The Pentagon Prayer Breakfast is a weekly event and will go on as scheduled," said a U.S. Army spokesperson, according to ForeignPolicy.com.
Additionally, the office of the Pentagon Chaplain said in a revised invitation sent by email on Nov. 27 that Pastor Giunta was "not available to speak."
Although Giunta's precise reason for the last-minute cancellation remains unspecified, critics speculate that the Pentagon received criticism for inviting Giunta in the first place, as he has a reportedly checkered past regarding his professional credentials.
The Las Vegas Sun produced a 2008 report on Giunta, alleging that his credentials for a Ph.D. were fakes and that he administered unqualified medical advice to minors.
Giunta, 47, shot back at the allegations, insisting his Ph.D. is legitimate and that he has helped a number of youth through his We Care Ministries, an evangelical global relief group.
Additionally, articles written by the Los Angeles Times indicate that Giunta, who was formerly the director of the California Cemetery Board in 1995, was audited and found guilty of embezzling state trust funds for cemetery upkeep.
Giunta also argued against these claims, saying the money he took from the trust fund was rightfully owed to the We Care Ministries for repairs made on the cemetery by the relief group.
One active group opposing Giunta's speech at Wednesday's prayer breakfast was the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that advocates for the separation of church and state.
The MRFF issued a Nov. 26 press release on its official website demanding that Giunta be removed from Wednesday's prayer breakfast roster, calling the pastor a "con artist" and the Pentagon's decision to have him speak a "travesty."
The Pentagon ultimately issued a statement contending that Giunta chose to cancel his speech at the prayer breakfast on his own accord.
"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," a military spokesperson said in response to an email from The Huffington Post regarding Giunta's speaking arrangement.
The weekly Pentagon Prayer Breakfast is slated to go on as scheduled on Wednesday, Nov. 28, with an hour-long religious educational program.