A civil liberties group has blasted a planned event to mark National Prayer Day at the Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, sent an email Wednesday to Brig. Gen. Helen Pratt, president of MCU, saying that he represents 21 members of the university's faculty, staff and students who object to the event.
"Your MCU subordinates are quite justifiably fearful of reprisal and retribution from you if they voice their objections," Weinstein wrote. "So they came to MRFF to bring their pleas to you to either cancel this event all together or to restructure it in a way which is not violative of their religious freedom civil rights."
Weinstein included an email from the university's chaplain forwarded by Pratt's secretary to MCU personnel inviting them to attend a May 5 prayer breakfast panel for a discussion on "Prayerful Leadership."
In response to Weinstein's allegations, a spokesman for Training and Education Command said the MCU event is not mandatory.
"The Marine Corps University Prayer Breakfast Panel, like other events associated with its Command Religious Program, is voluntary and open to all service members and civilians from within the command," Maj. Tony Semelroth said in an email to Marine Corps Times. "No attendance rosters are kept and participation, or lack of participation, has no influence on an individual's performance evaluation or potential for promotion."
The panel will feature Col. Scott Erdelatz, director of the Lejeune Leadership Institute at MCU; Col. Jason Bohm, director of the university's Expeditionary Warfare School; Col. Richard Hall, director of the Wargaming Division at the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and Rebecca Johnson, dean of the Marine Corps War College.
"I was raised Protestant and have no issue with prayer but when the Commanding General sends out an invitation to a religious event I feel compelled to attend and if I'm not there my absence will be noted and potentially held against me," the email says. "What makes this even worse is the panel includes the leadership of the University and the school Directors and Dean with the message that Marine Corps University is a religious institution.
"This is a clear violation of the Constitution and must be stopped. The panel discussion isn't on ethics but that using religion will make them better Marines. I am now fearful that if I don't agree with their religious views that I'll be judged negatively on my leadership."