WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON (AP) — Evangelist Franklin Graham's invitation to speak at a Pentagon prayer service has been rescinded because his comments about Islam were inappropriate, the Army said Thursday.
Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, in 2001 described Islam as evil. More recently, he has said he finds Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.
Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said Graham's remarks were "not appropriate."
"We're an all-inclusive military," Collins said. "We honor all faiths. ... Our message to our service and civilian work force is about the need for diversity and appreciation of all faiths."
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had raised the objection to Graham's appearance, citing his past remarks about Islam.
Collins said earlier this week that the invitation to attend the National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon wasn't from the military but from the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works with the Pentagon chaplain's office on the prayer event.
As co-honorary chair of the task force, Graham was expected to be the lead speaker at the May 6 Pentagon service. Country singer Ricky Skaggs was expected to perform.
Since Graham's invitation was rescinded, the task force has decided not to participate in the military prayer service, Collins said.
The decision suggests a growing sensitivity in recent years among senior Pentagon officials to the divide between the U.S. military and Muslims. Graham attended a Pentagon prayer service in 2003, despite objections by Muslim groups.
Graham said he regrets that the Army felt its decision was necessary. In a statement, Graham said he would continue to pray for the troops to "give them guidance, wisdom and protection as they serve this great country."
Nihad Awad, national executive director of Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Graham's invitation would have sent "entirely the wrong message" at a time when troops are stationed in Muslim nations.
"Promoting one's own religious beliefs is something to be defended and encouraged, but other faiths should not be attacked or misrepresented in the process," Awad said.
Shirley Dobson, chairwoman of the prayer task force, said Wednesday that U.S. leaders have called for a day of prayer during times of crisis since 1775 but the tradition is under attack.
"Enough is enough," said Dobson, wife of conservative Christian leader James Dobson. "We at the National Day of Prayer Task Force ask the American people to defend the right to pray in the Pentagon."
She called on President Barack Obama to appeal a ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin last week that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional because it amounts to a call for religious action. The judge did not bar any observances until all appeals are exhausted.
The Obama administration said Thursday it would appeal.
Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation said Graham shouldn't have been invited in the first place.
"I want to say this is a victory, but in a way it's a Pyrrhic victory because it shows how far this got," Weinstein said. "We're not exactly doing cartwheels."
Weinstein said he hopes someone more "inclusive" will be invited to replace Graham.
Collins said there was no word yet on who would lead the event.
Associated Press writer Dan Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.