The Army rescinded its invitation to Franklin Graham to speak at the Pentagon for the National Day of Prayer over concerns about his remarks about Islam.
Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said Thursday that Graham’s comments about Islam were “not appropriate.”
"We're an all-inclusive military," Collins said, according to The Associated Press. "We honor all faiths. ... Our message to our service and civilian work force is about the need for diversity and appreciation of all faiths."
Graham is under fire for past comments he made about Islam. He called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and more recently made disparaging remarks about the Muslim faith in an interview with CNN’s Campbell Brown in December 2009.
“True Islam cannot be practiced in this country,” Graham said to Brown. “You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, on behalf of Muslim military personnel and defense department staff, demanded in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Graham be disinvited as a speaker at the prayer event. The group took issue with his comments on Islam and his ties to conservative Christian group the National Day of Prayer Task Force.
Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, is the co-honorary chair of the task force.
Earlier this week, Collins noted that the military was not responsible for inviting Graham to speak at the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer event. The National Day of Prayer Task Force and the Pentagon chaplain’s office had invited him.
Graham, though still standing by his earlier remarks, has tried to clarify and soften his tone by saying he has Muslim friends and loves the people of Islam. The humanitarian group he heads, Samaritan’s Purse, works in some predominantly Muslim countries.
“It’s (Muslim world) a part of the world I love very much,” Graham said, according to CNN. “And I understand it. But I certainly disagree with their teaching.”
Graham has met several times with Sudan’s notorious Muslim president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the leader who is widely held to be responsible for the Darfur genocide. Despite believing that Islam is an “evil and wicked” religion, Graham said he meets with Bashir in hopes of leading him to Christ.
In response to withdrawal of the invitation, Graham said he regrets the Army’s decision and he would continue to pray for the military troops.
The fallout between Graham and the Army is the latest controversy surrounding the National Day of Prayer. Last week, a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the prayer day is unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action.
Lawmakers and Christian groups have called on President Obama to direct the Justice Department to appeal the decision. The Obama administration said Thursday it will appeal.
The 59th annual National Day of Prayer will be observed on May 6. President Obama said he still intends to issue a proclamation this year to recognize the prayer day.