The US Air Force Academy should withdraw its invitation for a former Marine to address the Academy’s National Prayer Luncheon next month, according to a religious freedom advocacy group.
“Egregiously sectarian statements like [those] from former Lt. McClary blatantly exclude not only non-Christians, but also the many Christians who do not subscribe to a particularly fundamentalist view of Christianity,” Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, president and founder of Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), said.
Lt. Clebe McClary is a wounded Vietnam veteran who has since become known as an evangelical Christian motivational speaker.
The MRFF in a letter [PDF] to U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michael C. Gould demands that the Air Force Academy instead select a speaker with an inclusive message for the attendees.
Former Lt. McClary, who has been endorsed by conservative Christians such as the late Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, says on his website that “U.C.M.C. will always mean a U. S. Marine for Christ.”
“I almost went to hell with high morals [because] I never invited Jesus Christ into my heart as Savior or let Him become the Lord of my life,” McClary, a self-described member of the “Lord’s army,” said.
Bobby Muller, founder and president for nine years of Vietnam Veterans of America, took issue with the way McClary uses injuries he sustained in Vietnam to promote his religious belief system.
“Lt. McClary lost an eye and an arm; I lost the ability to walk,” Muller, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), recently wrote.
He continued, “Countless other Marines, of all religions and no religion, have also suffered life-changing and permanent injuries in the service of our country.”
The Air Force Academy’s Feb. 10 event was inspired by the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Church-state separation advocates have criticized the National Prayer Breakfast’s organizers, The Family, a group of secretive evangelical Christian politicians that aim to spread their strict beliefs abroad.
The Family, known now as The Fellowship, is the subject of Jeff Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.
“Unlike other Christian right groups, they don’t really believe that you’re in power because you’re a good person,” Sharlet told Democracy Now of The Family’s members in 2009.
Yet the Academy’s spokesperson dismissed the latest round of allegations, saying that luncheon attendance is voluntary for cadets.
“Nobody is being forced or coerced to go to this luncheon,” Lt. Col. John Bryan told the Colorado Springs Gazette, adding that McClary is “a nationally recognized motivational speaker.”
The Academy’s first choice for a speaker — retired Army general and former Secretary of State Colin Powell — reportedly passed on the offer because of scheduling conflicts.