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Facebook removes Army chaplains’ prayer videos after complaints from activist group

Tech. Sgt. Paul Couch, 323rd Training Squadron military training instructor, provides a tour to chaplain candidates of an Airman Training Complex at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, July 5, 2017. The tour was part of the Chaplain Candidate Intensive Internship. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Krystal Wright)
April 27, 2020

Facebook removed prayer videos from several U.S. military chaplains following complaints their videos are proselytizing Christianity in violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), an organization that advocates against religious proselytizing through the armed services, shared a post about their successful efforts to flag and have religious videos shared on official military pages removed from Facebook.

Fox News reported the MRFF won removal requests on four recent videos involving chaplains Cpt. Amy Smith and Maj. Scott Ingram, which was posted by Army’s 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade at Fort Drum, New York.

One of Smith’s videos discussed the “Fort Drum Spiritual Fitness Trail” in an April 17 post and said, “You are invited to pray, to pray for the family, to pray for the sick, and to pray for our leaders.”

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In another video, Smith encouraged people to visit the Fort Drum Labyrinth and referred to the obstacle as a potential “spiritual tool” for religious contemplation.

In one of Ingram’s removed videos, the chaplain cited scripture from Isaiah, and encouragedservice members to derive strength from their faith in God.

In March, the group also won the removal of a video shared by the U.S. Air Force Reserve, in which members discussed things that give them a sense of purpose and resiliency during the coronavirus pandemic. Some members referred to their families as a source of resiliency, while others took pride in their work, though some people also discussed their faith in a higher power as a source of resiliency.

The MRFF has called for the removal of another video, which has been shared by the official Facebook page for the U.S. Army post at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

In their post, the MRFF raised concerns about the video’s being shared outside of social media pages specifically assigned to chapel services. They also referred to their advocacy as an effort to stop the “virus” of Christian proselytizing on military social media pages.

“MRFF continues its fight against the ‘virus’ of Christian proselytizing COVID-19 videos on official military Facebook pages,” the group wrote. “The only proper place for these videos is on the chapel pages. After successfully getting videos removed from the Fort Hamilton, Fort Drum, and Air Force Reserve Facebook pages, MRFF goes after Redstone Arsenal.”

MRFF founder and president Mikey Weinstein told the Christian Post his group made “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.”

Mike Berry, a lawyer for the First Liberty Institute, criticized the MRFF’s actions.

“At a time when our nation is hurting and many feel hopeless, why on earth would Mikey Weinstein attack prayer?,” Berry said. “America has the strongest military in history, but our brave service members are not immune to the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked.”

He continued, “I cannot believe the legendary U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division raised the white flag of surrender to an anti-religious freedom zealot. Every president, from Washington to Trump, has publicly prayed for our military. If the commander in chief can pray, then our soldiers can, too.”

Among its advocacy efforts MRFF also previously raised efforts to get the U.S. Marine Corps to ban dog tag replicas bearing scripture passages. The group also advocated for the removal of a Bible placed at a VA hospital POW/MIA display, which was donated by a 100-year-old returned World War II POW.

The MRFF also represented a female Muslim soldier stationed at Fort Carson, who was ordered to remove her hijab, which she was authorized to wear. Officials at Fort Carson said the order was given because the soldier’s hair was worn “visibly” outside of regulations.

“Fort Carson is simply, shamefully and dishonestly falsely reporting about this shocking incident of BLATANT Islamophobic bigotry perpetrated by one of its highest-ranking NCOs [non-commissioned officers] on the installation. Their mendacious and twisted ‘version’ of what transpired is an absolutely repulsive exacerbation of an already horrific incident of racist anti-Muslim prejudice,” Weinstein said of Fort Carson’s response at the time.