Videos produced by chaplains encouraging service members and their families to pray during the COVID-19 crisis were removed from the official Facebook page of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Drum, New York, following a complaint.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation announced that it received complaints a few days ago from eight active duty service members in the 10th Mountain Division objecting to four videos posted in March and April by two chaplains on the Sustainment Brigade’s official command Facebook page that has over 7,800 followers.
MRFF founder and President Mikey Weinstein sent a demand correspondence to the commander at Fort Drum this week urging that the videos posted by chaplains Amy Smith and Scott Ingram be removed from the Facebook page alleging that they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
MRFF accused the videos of being “illicit proselytizing videos.” MRFF contends that the videos should have been posted to “The Fort Drum Chapel” Facebook page that has 348 followers but not to the brigade’s main page.
According to MRFF, the videos were removed a few hours after the demand letter was sent.
“I personally spoke on the phone this morning to the senior leadership staff of [Maj. Gen.] Brian Mennes, the 10th’s Commanding General, as well as subordinate senior staff of [Col.] Matt Bresko, the Commander of the 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade,” Weinstein said in a statement Monday.
“These senior Fort Drum staffers were professional and courteous and seemed to understand well the position of MRFF in advocating for our active duty Army clients under their command.”
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One of the videos in question was posted on April 2 by Chaplain Ingram in which he cited Isaiah 41 to call on people to put their trust in God during the coronavirus crisis.
“Change is never easy, but together we can walk forward in supernatural strength in the confidence that we are not forsaken,” Ingram says in the video.
Another video that MRFF objected to was posted on April 17 by Chaplain Smith promoting the Fort Drum Spiritual Fitness Trail.
“This trail is designed to be used as a prayer walk, to walk around all the different stations. There are approximately nine different stations where you are invited to pray, to pray for the family, to pray for the sick, and to pray for our leaders,” Smith says in the video.
“I’m always amazed at how God is in tune with His nature and His creation and He is in tune with us. So the prayer walk helps us to get in tune with Him. It is a great way to connect with God.”
In an April 8 video, Smith encouraged the Fort Drum community to visit the Fort Drum Labyrinth. She called the obstacle a great spiritual tool to use “especially during this COVID-19 epidemic.”
“It’s going to feel like you are walking in circles. But sometimes in life, that is what you feel like,” she said.
“Sometimes you will be toward the outside. At times in our walk with God, we can be asking God, ‘Where are you? Where are you in the midst of this COVID-19?’ Other times, you will be more toward the center and you can hear God’s voice and you can hear Him and you can sense Him, even in the midst of all the craziness that is going on with all the worry, fear and anxiety.”
The Christian Post reached out to Fort Drum for confirmation of MRFF’s claim. A response is pending.
“MRFF and its military clients would greatly prefer that the Army would have taken this action sua sponte (‘ON ITS OWN’) without having to cause MRFF to make these obviously valid demands to ensure church-state separation in the first place on behalf of aggrieved Army personnel who justly fear reprisal, retribution, revenge and retaliation for taking their grievances up the chain of command,” Weinstein added in his statement.
MRFF, which advocates for a strict separation of church and state and regularly pressures military entities to end any perceived entanglement with religion, has lately pressured military installations to remove chaplain videos from official social media pages.
In early April, MRFF announced that Army Garrison Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, had removed one such video in which a chaplain used the example of Jesus’ Last Supper in remarks on community building.
In late March, MRFF pressured the Air Force Reserve to remove what it called “one of the most overt proselytizing videos in the recent memory.” The video was titled “Spiritual Resiliency – Meaning & Purpose.” MRFF claims the video featured almost seven minutes of Christian proselytizing.