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Group opposes controversial televangelist speaking at Fort Jackson prayer breakfast

Service members, Department of Defense civilians and military family members all gather together for the the Joint Base Lewis-McChord National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 16, 2016.

JASMINE HIGGINS/U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By JEFF WILKINSON | The State (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 27, 2018

A military religious freedom group is protesting the invitation to televangelist Kenneth Copeland to speak at an annual prayer breakfast at Fort Jackson on Feb. 1.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has written a letter to Fort Jackson Commander Maj. Gen. John P. “Pete” Johnson asking that he rescind the invitation to the Fort Worth, Texas-based evangelist.

The group claims in the letter that they represent 56 soldiers at the fort, including 32 Protestant or Catholic soldiers who have contacted them to complain about the visit.

Foundation founder and president Mikey Weinstein told The State newspaper on Friday that the soldiers asked not be identified for fear of repercussions from superiors.

They cite what they say are Copeland’s statements “trivializing” post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), and alleged homophobic and Islamophobic statements in his broadcasts. In addition, his political stances, Weinstein said, erode military cohesiveness and does not conform with Army values.

“If you trivialize PTSD, you trivialize the members of the military that have this very serious disease,” he said. “Is he going to claim next that you can’t have traumatic brain injury? Is he going to say at Fort Jackson that PTSD doesn’t exist?”

The group also opposes Copeland’s visit because of what Weinstein called an “exploitation of the poor for his own aggrandizement and enrichment.”

Efforts to reach the Copeland ministry for comment were unsuccessful.

Fort Jackson, the nation’s largest basic training installation, responded to The State in a statement saying that military prayer breakfasts and luncheons have been held since the 1950s and have hosted “religious leaders from many faith traditions and denominations, cultural leaders, and foreign heads of state.”

“The Prayer Breakfast is open to all community members, is entirely voluntary, and is cost free to the Army and attendees,” it said. “Mr. Copeland’s participation in the prayer breakfast is not an endorsement by Fort Jackson of him or of any comments that he may present. Fort Jackson respects and protects all individual’s (sic) rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, including ensuring access to religious services and events for those who wish to participate and protecting the rights of those who do not.”

Weinstein added that the group only protests religious events that are perceived to be mandatory, or those in which the speaker is viewed by them as violating military values.

He said major military installations across the nation and world participate in prayer breakfasts and luncheons “and we are going after one and it’s in your backyard. The others we are not touching.”

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©2018 The State (Columbia, S.C.)
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